Serving others is how Omaha Police Department Lieutenant Marcus Taylor, 42, was raised. He did part of his growing up in the Philippines when his career U.S. Air Force parents were stationed there.
“Seeing Third World poverty and people less fortunate gave me a foundation at a young age of recognizing my blessings and helping others,” Taylor said. “My parents instilled early on treating people with dignity and respect regardless of their circumstances. They gave me a heart of service.”
When the military brought the family to Bellevue, Neb. his mother enlisted him in volunteering with Special Olympics. Today, he oversees a Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Nebraska.
Though a 19-year OPD veteran, he said, “I wasn’t one of those guys that grew up wanting to be a cop.” Brought up in church, he took seriously the love they neighbor edict. “I was always stepping up for those in need. If a kid was getting bullied at school, I would stick up for him.”
After high school, he worked in K-12 after-school programs and at a group home serving at-risk teens.
“The kids came from all sorts of backgrounds. It was there I got introduced to the criminal justice system because we had a lot of kids involved in the system for things like robbery, assault, and truancy. If they bought into the program and wanted to change their life, they were able to do so. I saw great things happen when investing in kids and giving them structure, foundation, and hope. Many excelled. Some went onto college.”
Taylor also saw young people go the wrong way.
“Some kids had the opportunity, intelligence, and ability, but made bad choices. Some didn’t have a supportive home structure. I ended up seeing a few later in life when I was a gang detective on homicides.”
The promising Vincent Page took a tragic path. “He was super smart. We had talks about how he could do anything he put his mind to. He loved having money in his pocket, so he chose to hustle. I told him what that ends up being is incarceration or death. I have family members in Baltimore (Md.) in that lifestyle. Vincent ended up killed in a drug deal gone wrong. That was heartbreaking.”
Page wasn’t the only youth he intersected with at the group home who got lost along the way.
“I had a couple of others who were shot and killed. Some of these cases are still unsolved. That experience drove me to want to pursue homicide investigation once I got on the police force.”
Before considering law enforcement as a career option, he attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha on academic and athletic scholarships. He played football for two years but gave it up with the birth of his first child. He later resumed playing for the Omaha Beef franchise.
His well-rounded experience included working at Community Alliance’s rehab facility. Meanwhile, a friend urged him to consider police work. “I had no interest at the time. I was like, ‘I’m not trying to be a cop, man. Nothing against it, I just don’t see it.’ But we got to talking and I got to thinking I really didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk.”
Taylor realized his heart of service was a good fit. In 2003 he got hired as a detention technician in OPD’s downtown headquarters holding facility. Corrections work helped him learn how to engage with people at their worst or most vulnerable. The experience heightened his empathy and ability to de-escalate volatile situations.
“Having that foundation was great. I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the opportunities. That’s when I really knew I was interested in being a police officer.”
His resolve to wear the blue badge strengthened when Thomas Warren became OPD’s first Black chief. Senior Black officers recruited him. “Everybody was telling me, hey, man you need to be a cop,”
When OPD officer Jason “Tye” Pratt was shot and killed in 2003, he said, “I felt like I could do more than just being in the basement jail. I felt I needed to be on the street to try to make a difference.”
Another deciding factor was the legacy of former deputy chief Monroe Coleman. Taylor drew inspiration from Coleman’s rise to become OPDs highest serving African American until Warren.
“I got to meet Mr. Coleman,” Taylor said. “I found out he was the valedictorian of Omaha South High (Taylor was senior class president at Bellevue East) and a colonel in the Army. He was entrusted with Richard M. Nixon’s presidential detail when he came to Omaha. It was special to see that despite unbelievable challenges he found himself in those leadership positions. He was somebody I aspired to be.”
Taylor worked with the Coleman family to create scholarships in his name at UNO and Metropolitan Community College.
Upon finally setting his sights on a law enforcement career, Taylor got hired by OPD and graduated from the Omaha Police Academy in 2004. He went on to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice and security administration from the University of Phoenix.
Working out of the North Precinct, he said, “the biggest thing was being able to talk and interact with people.” His people skills proved an asset on the streets. His athletic background and self-defense training enabled him to handle physical situations.
Unlike some Black officers who get flak from loved ones for being in a field that draws criticism, scrutiny, and even scorn, Taylor said his family has largely been “very supportive.” He said they appreciate “the perspective” he brings as someone who “lives in both worlds.”
He’s found fewer open minds outside his family. “Some friends or people I thought were friends fell off and treated me completely differently when I became a police officer. It’s just what happens.” He said anti-police attitudes are a reality in this Black Lives Matter, post-George Floyd era. He wants people to know cops, too, is disgusted by wrongful deaths at the hands of police.
“It’s disheartening. One incident is too many. When you see it happening frequently, it’s tough.”
When an incident does happen, he said open communication with citizens is the answer.
“I’ve got to give kudos to Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer and the culture he’s created because when something happens, he’ll go to community meetings and talk about those things right away. That’s the industry standard now, but he’s been doing that for years.
“As a department, we do that as a collective whole.
We’re here to help address community concerns. We try to be very direct and transparent to get to the bottom of whatever happened, and then if people need to be held accountable, make sure we do that.”
His aim is to try to “restore hope in the profession” both inside and outside its ranks. “It can be very discouraging in this job. A lot of men and women are leaving the profession. A lot of it is because of the environment and the narrative of what’s said about the profession.”
It’s difficult, he said, to be painted with a broad brush that indicts all officers as bad when, he said, the vast majority perform admirably. “We’re losing candidates to other professions. We’re trying to recruit new officers and sustain current officers.”
For police-community relations to mend, he said, “It must be a continual effort to be willing to hear each other out. We don’t want the community to lose faith in us if we make a mistake. The only way you can truly have that trust is through a relationship. When I first got on, people weren’t really open to that – possibly on both sides. There were times it was like us versus them mentality.”
As his career progressed, Taylor found a support network among senior Black officers. When several retired in a short span, he and fellow officer Ken Fox co-founded BPOA (Black Peace Officers Association). Part of its mission is to help the department remain diverse by encouraging current Black officers to pursue promotions and to do enhanced professional development. Another aim is to nurture relationships in the Black community.
He, Fox, and colleagues Sherie Thomas and Anna Colon took the lead. “We really started working together, studying together, holding each other accountable, pushing each other. We talked about increasing diversity and being leaders within our department and it was cool to see that we achieved a lot of our goals.”
Taylor and Fox graduated from sergeant to lieutenant while Thomas and Colon are now deputy chiefs.
BPOA was created right around Michael Brown’s wrongful death in Ferguson, Mo. which sparked the BLM movement. In response, Taylor said, “We saw we were going to have to get more involved to build relationships. It couldn’t all be about making arrests. Relationship building is more important so that people feel comfortable making reports and coming to the police with problems. It’s about being proactive. Our membership is extremely diverse. We want to bridge that gap with the African American community and the police department, bringing everybody together in service, and doing our job with integrity.”
Peer support is a passion for Taylor, who notes it’s not uncommon for law enforcement professionals to suffer mental health issues related to the stress and strain of the job. He said he knows from experience that cops struggling with mental health often seek support from their place of worship before acknowledging the problem to supervisors or human resource specialists. Therefore, he’s working with the First Responders Foundation in Omaha on forming an “online spiritual health network” to give first responders a place of worship to contact for support, guidance, a referral. He believes spiritual and mental health resources can complement each other.
“The idea is that we work together in making sure first responders are mentally and spiritually strong to get through their career.”
He describes as “gut-wrenching” his colleague Kerry Orozco being slain in the line of duty in 2015, leaving behind a husband and three children. Taylor worked with her on OPD youth volunteer efforts.
“Kerry made quite an impact. Her heart was big. She served the community. She did the right thing.”
The baseball field at North Omaha’s Miller Park, where Taylor and Orozco coached, underwent a complete redo and has been renamed in her honor. “It’s been great to get the support of the community to build the new baseball field in here,” he said. “That truly is a testament to OPD, the city, and the community coming together.”
The difference between the old and new fields is stark. “It used to be a borderline hazard. Now it’s state of the art,” he said. Adding he loves the fact teams from the suburbs come there to play. “Our goal is bringing people together. It’s all a tribute to Kerry. We know she would have been right there with us.”
The makeover was part of several park upgrades. “Miller Park use to be called ‘killer park because of all the bad stuff happening,” Taylor said. “It’s great to see families enjoying that park again.”
Coaching is dear to Taylor, especially in basketball. It was the sport he introduced his own girls to because of his love for the game. He coached at Bellevue East and still coaches with Retro Hoops.
“If you give kids resources and access to support, they excel. I fell in love with seeing kids put in the work and develop, from going to never touching a basketball before to starting on their varsity high school teams, some even getting college athletic scholarships. Working together, it’s amazing what people can achieve in sports in terms of defying expectations. There are so many great storylines of tenacity, grit, and overcoming adversity.”
He and his wife Tonya, who owns Tonya Taylor Studio, are parents to five daughters, four of whom he had with his late first wife. When the four oldest girls were abandoned by their birth mother, Tonya adopted them.
“Faith is a big part of our family’s life. It gets us through.”
His daughters from his first wife are still working through the death of their birth mother a year ago.
In Tonya, he found a kindred spirit. “She worked in group homes, too. She’s good at interacting with people from all walks of life. She’s always had a big heart for kids.”
When not volunteering or policing, Marcus works as a private security agent for Clark International. He’s worked as a bodyguard for Omaha-based billionaire Warren Buffett and protected Berkshire Hathaway celebrity shareholders and other visiting public figures.
“I’m the team leader of a couple of special details,” said Taylor. “It’s pretty cool to be in that position and to be trusted with that.”
His notion of leadership is tethered to the Bible’s servant leadership ethos.
“I really believe relationships are key. You have to value your people and want to see them succeed. If you see failures or shortcomings, you have to have conversations with the spirit of, hey, I want to see you do well.”
Taylor said he leads by example and treats people under his command how he likes to be treated.
“I don’t rush to judgment. I make sure I gather input before I make my decision. People who work for me will always know they will be held accountable and valued. When you show people they have value and you empower them to be the best version of themselves, you get a good response. Positivity matters. There’s not much you can’t talk about when you have that relationship.”
He leaned into his heart and said, “has been pretty effective for me over the years.”
As for his career trajectory, he notes, “I’m in my dream job right now as Gang Unit Commander. As much as l love this job, I’ve learned to see what God has for me and go from there. If I’m needed in this position to make the biggest impact, then that’s where I’ll be. If I needed to step up to be in a higher leadership position as captain or even deputy chief, then so be it.
“People always say, hey, Marcus, I think you’re going to be the next chief, and I’ll be honest, I don’t want that. Heavy is that crown. But if that’s what God would have planned for me, then I’ll be obedient and do the best I can. That’s what I’ve surrendered to. It’s how I’ve lived my life and it’s worked thus far.”
He is grateful he followed the call to serve in law enforcement.
“I’ve been blessed to be in the positions I’ve been in. I’ve really enjoyed the work, even during the toughest of times.”