Orton, 34, was nominated for rescuing a drowning woman on the Boise River last August, and will accept the award at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., in May.
Orton recently sat down with BW to talk about what inspired him get into this profession in the first place, where he got his name, and why he's no hero.
Why did you want to be a police officer?
I always had the interest in law enforcement. I was kinda always running from the cops when I was in high school. I saw the police as the enemy and not as a friend, but I'd always had an interest in it. I initially moved to Boise to get educated. I was in Boise for about a week when I realized that this is the greatest place on the planet and this is where I wanted to stay.
What's something about you people might find surprising?
That [police officers] are normal people. I'm just a normal guy. It's definitely my career and I take it very seriously, but we're not police officers 24/7, and we weren't hatched out of a cop egg. We all have had our own life experiences that have shaped who we are. But ultimately, when it comes down to it, we're just like everybody else.
What's a typical day like for you?
That's one great thing about law enforcement, and that's one thing that had drawn me to it: There's no typical day. Granted, you can have a nine hour and 50 minute shift that's the most mundane and boring shift in the world, and then something will happen on the radio and you'll have the craziest thing happen. There's no typical day in law enforcement. You'd be amazed at the kind of stuff that happens on a daily basis in this valley.
What's one of your strangest cases?
It would depend on your definition of strange. Naked people are always funny. Being a police officer is always the ultimate "looky-lure" job. If people don't know who to call, they call the police. If they have a raccoon on their roof, they call the police. If their kid won't wear the right thing to church, they call the police. You'd be amazed.
Do you feel like there's tension between the community and the police?
No. I think the majority of the Boise citizenry supports the police department. There's a vocal minority that obviously doesn't. I think that as Boise grows, the perception of crime is starting to catch up with the average citizen. I've been a police officer since 1999, and I was amazed even back then at what happened in the city. I'd managed a bar, so I wasn't naive.
Do you find it hard to "take off the uniform" at the end of the day?
Absolultely not. Cops are not on duty 24/7. It's a career, not a lifestyle. Unless somebody is seriously injured, I'm just going to be a good witness. Being a police officer will consume your whole life if you let it. You have to have that separation of [doing] everything you possibly can to make a difference, but you also have to bring common sense into it as well.
What if you'd found the lady you rescued last summer when you were off duty?
Oh, I'd have done exactly the same thing. But that's something [where her] life was in danger, so that's very serious. There's people who want to make a difference and people who want to help, and there's people that want to mind their own business. Fortunately in Boise, I think the majority of people want to help and want to make a difference.
What do you love most about your job?
The variation. The people I work with, the camaraderie. The fact that I'm not confined to a cubicle. I can actually get out there. And, when you're not responding to calls for service, you can create your own. Everybody has a niche in what they enjoy doing. I've never been a traffic guy.
What are the crime trends in Boise?
As the city grows, crime is growing with it. In my opinion, the drug problem we have is a catalyst for a lot of the other crime that we deal with.
How do you feel about being named one of the nation's "10 Top Cops"?
To be honest, I didn't even know I was nominated. I was on vacation in Mexico, and I got back to the L.A. airport and checked my messages for the week, and I had all sorts of people that I work with singing and congratulating me, singing Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." I was a little confused, and then I found out what had happened. I was honored to be nominated. But I've seen so many acts of heroism throughout the department and within the emergency services realm. This was just a matter of me being in the right place at the right time. It's a great honor, but it's an honor that would be bestowed on probably anybody else that I work with if they were found in the same situation.
How do you feel about the word "hero"?
It's a lot better than how people typically refer to the police. I don't feel like I'm a hero by any means. I was just doing my job. Even if I was a citizen walking down the Greenbelt and saw it happen, I'd do the same thing. I'd just think that it was my civic duty to do something like that.
Does this profession attract certain types?
It's actually a pretty dynamic group. Obviously, you have to be a Type A person; you have to be somebody who wants to get involved. People look to you to try to make everything OK again. A lot of people think that it's a bunch of adrenaline junkies and egomaniacs, and it's really not.
Where does your name come from?
I heard it was from an episode of Big Valley. I've never seen Big Valley because it was before my time, but apparently, my mom was a big fan of that. It actually means "freckled" in Irish or Gaelic or something like that.
Do you meet a lot of young punks that remind you of yourself?
Absolutely. But hopefully I can get in to [kids'] heads a bit to remind them that the police are your friend. That's the way I was always raised. We're not here to harm people; we're here to help.
Do you ever feel your life is in danger?
You don't think about that until afterwards. I've been shot at a couple times; I've helped people out of burning buildings, and you don't ever think about the seriousness of what's going on until afterwards. It's weird.