Special Report: Life Undercover - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Special Report: Life Undercover

By Ursula Madden - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - For one year, Memphis police officer April Leatherwood lived in the shadows of Memphis crime.

"The only safety I felt while I was undercover was being nasty and dirty, not showering for a year, smelling like I did live on the streets," she said. "I always say, that was my gun.  You know, I didn't carry a weapon out there. It was just me by myself.  Nobody. No officers. No one around me.  Me hanging out in these high drug crime areas."

Leatherwood was deep undercover, posing as a junkie, Summer Smith.  But buying drugs and busting dealers was only part of her job.  She also had to gain their trust.

"Every day when you're done, as soon as you're not on the street, in your safe place, it's kind of like, whew, you know, you made it through another day," she said. "'Cause anything can happen, from something happening to you to just being in the middle of a drive by shooting."

The personal toll was immense. Being undercover meant Leatherwood was isolated from the people she loves.

"You give up your family, your friends, anything that has any attachment to you," she said.

In the beginning, Leatherwood had no trouble separating herself from her undercover alter ego, but toward the end, there was a change.  It was something her intense undercover training could not prepare her for.

"I got to the point where I felt like I was losing myself, and becoming mentally and physically like I was over it," she said.

Leatherwood began to break down mentally and emotionally.  Though she'd made a two year commitment to being undercover, she knew it was time to get out.

"I was like, 'I don't care what you do with me! Put me back in a squad car,'" she said. "I wanted to go back to the furthest place I could remember, being who I was before I went undercover."

Leatherwood is still with the Memphis Police Department, and says her time undercover made her a better cop.

"People are able to walk outside their house and not see people selling drugs on the corner," she said. "Houses are getting boarded up because we're buying drugs out of these known drug houses. We're able to board them up and get them out.  And it's a lot safer for the kids, and people that live in the neighborhood."

Call April Leatherwood a hero, and she'll tell you she's just a police officer doing her job.  The first thing she wanted to do when she came out from undercover was jump in a tanning bed and get her hair done - just to feel like herself again.

Leatherwood has no regrets, and believes every second she spent undercover was worth it to take back our neighborhoods.

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