Known for her empathetic approach with the public, officer Jill Marshall was first drawn to law enforcement in high school, and has never second guessed that path. She spoke with A&E Real Crime about how she got started, lessons she’s learned on the job with the Warwick, Rhode Island, Police Department and the real story behind her dog’s name.
How did you decide this would be the right line of work for you?
When I was in high school, I did a few ride-alongs with family friends who were police officers, just to see what the job was like. I thought, Wow, this is a really interesting job. It’s very unpredictable, and I was drawn to that. And then, probably like most new officers, I wanted to save the world, help people and get bad guys–do what was morally right. Once I decided, I never turned back.
What is going undercover like for you? How does it compare to the rest of the work you do?
Besides Live PD, [going undercover] has been the best experience of my career. When I was 26 or 27, I was approached by our undercover unit [to see] if I would be interested in going into the bars in the city, trying to make friends, trying to get a feel for the bar and buying narcotics.
What was that like?
It was very exciting. It can be nerve-wracking too, because you just never know. I remember someone handed me cocaine and [saying,] ‘Hey, I don’t have enough to give you, a decent amount, but I’ll split it with you.’ I’m in the back, like trying to split this cocaine in half so I have enough to test so we can charge in the future. I was put into situations where I had absolutely zero experience. You have to be sharp, be on your game. That was totally fascinating for me. I loved it.
What’s the most valuable thing or two you’ve learned from watching Live PD?
Something that struck me recently was the fact that some departments put suspects in the passenger seat of their car. That really threw me off. Our policy is that suspect, whether we’re transporting to help someone—like say, it’s pouring rain and I see someone and I want to give them a ride because I don’t have any calls—we have to put them on the passenger side in the backseat. So that sparked a conversation at work.
Tell us a little bit about what it’s like when you hear from fans.
When parents reach out and tell me, ‘My [child] looks up to you. She waits for you on the TV,’ it’s just so touching. One of the best things that’s going to come out of this show, for me, is how many people have said to me, ‘I didn’t think I could do this job, the job you do, because I’m small, and I don’t have that machismo, you know that tough-guy appearance or demeanor. But when I see you do your work, I know that I can actually do this—that I can offer something other than what the [stereotype] has always been.’
It has been so wonderful to hear that people are gaining that confidence, like, ‘Hey, if Officer Marshall can do it, maybe I can do it, too.’
Describe your approach at work.
Let’s say I’m responding to a domestic disturbance and I arrive on scene and it’s very heated. Based on my experience, if you go in there and your adrenaline’s going, and you’re aggressive, they almost feel like it’s a competition. So I separate people immediately. I bring them aside, and I always say the same thing: ‘Hey, listen. I’m just showing up here. I have no idea about your history, your relationship. All I want is to talk to you over here, away from this other party, and hear your side of the story, and to get an idea of what’s going on.’
I take people for how they present themselves to me, and I have always felt that if someone gives me respect, I will give respect in return. It has worked for me throughout my career, I would say 99 percent of the time.
How do they respond to that, overall?
I have arrested people I’ve had decent conversations with, and [while] they’re not going to thank me for arresting them, they [have thanked] me for having patience and giving them the opportunity to speak. As strange as that sounds, they’re like, ‘Thank you Officer Marshall, for taking the time to speak with me.’
Police officers, military, we all have a history, and we’ve all made mistakes throughout our lives. We’re going to continue to do that because we’re human. So for me not to give people the benefit of the doubt and give them [an opportunity to speak], it wouldn’t be fair.
For fans who don’t know, how did you meet your husband?
I got on the job when I was 24. I remember walking [into roll call], and there was an officer sitting [there and] I had a question. My first encounter with him was me asking this question. I don’t even remember what it was—it was probably about beat arrangements, like who works what beat—and he gave me this, like, one-word answer. It was so short that I was like, ‘Oh, OK, apparently I won’t be asking this guy any questions in the future.’
We ended up working third shift for a very short time together, and [we are] complete, polar opposites. Like our personalities are like black and white. Everyone teases us now. They’re like, ‘How the heck did you two end up together?’ But we have the same drive, the same morals and values, and now we’ve been married almost 14 years.
Tell us about your family.
We have three beautiful children: Grace, 12; Adelia, 10; and Jesse, 6. And a fur baby, Viking. He’s going to be 2 in June, and that’s like having a toddler!
It’s really funny because [Warwick PD’s] Officer Steere’s dog is Viking. People ask, ‘Did you name him after Viking?’ And I didn’t. Six years ago, my husband was deployed. He was in Kandahar, in Afghanistan, and his unit was called the Vikings. [One day] I was throwing on a T-shirt that had the Vikings on it, which my husband had gotten for us when he was away, and I said, ‘You know what? This is a great [name]. Viking! Let’s go with this.’ So that’s how our dog got his name.
What do you like to do in your spare time, when you’re not working?
I love doing things with my family—the five of us and Viking. We travel quite a bit, and we absolutely love Disney. We try to go at least once a year. If my husband had his way, we’d go like five times a year. And we’re homebodies. I love the summer, having cookouts, having family and friends over, playing cornhole, swimming in the pool. We’re just a very low-key, relaxed family.