HANCOCK COUNTY — A couple of years ago, Tabitha Davis made the decision she wanted to work for the community and took a job as a receptionist with the county’s probation department. It didn’t take long for her bosses — Chief Probation Officer Josh Sipes and Probation Officer Nick Layman — to figure out they had a special employee.

“Tabitha has applied her knowledge and skill to several offices in this department,” Sipes said.

From the prosecutor’s office to the clerk’s office and work at the county jail, Davis explored her interests in every area as she pursued her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Indiana Wesleyan University.

In January, Spies hired her as a full-time probation officer, and she’s already made a huge difference for the department. Davis has been recognized by state officials for her hard work just a few months into the new job.

Davis was nominated for and recently won the 2022 Probation Officer Rookie of the Year Award given out each year to a new probation officer from the state who “shows impeccable effort in the field of probation and criminal justice.”

As members of the Probation Officers Professional Association of Indiana, the county’s probation department received notice of the award and, without hesitation, Sipes nominated Davis.

“There were over 25 people nominated and her merits really stood out,” Sipes said.

Davis, along with several others from the county’s probation department and her husband, traveled to the annual POPAI Fall Conference award luncheon in French Lick where she picked up the award in early September.

Davis said the past several months have gone by in the blink of an eye, and she was honored as well as humbled when she learned about the award.

“It’s good to know you are recognized for the work you put in day in and day out,” Davis said.

The full-time job for Davis with probation came about late last year as case loads were expanding. Sipes and Layman knew they needed to add to the probation team and believed Davis was the natural selection. She started in the new position in January.

“If we kept her in the reception role, I would have been taking advantage of someone in that position who was well overqualified,” Sipes said.

Sipes noted Davis was always doing more than she was supposed to as a receptionist, including work with presentations and taking a grant writing class to help the department generate funds for programs.

For Davis, who always wanted a career in criminal justice, a stent as a paralegal at the prosecutor’s office and a try at the jail didn’t quite fit her personality, but being a probation officer is something that suits her.

“Being a probation officer is a happy medium between dealing with all the paperwork as a paralegal and working hands-on in the jail with offenders,” Davis said.

Layman worked with Davis for a year and half while she was the receptionist and agreed with Sipes on promoting her to a full-time probation position after he saw her work ethic.

“We work together really well, so I pushed for her get the position that was created,” Layman said. “She puts in a lot of extra work on a lot of things and it makes a difference in the department.”

Davis, 27, is an Eastern Hancock High School graduate who was born and raised in the county. The married soon-to-be mother of two young children said it was always her goal to stay in the county and help make it a better place for all residents.

“I’m sure at times I might have wondered what else is out there, but I have such great family support here and we’re really a close-knit family,” Davis said. “I did 10 years of 4-H and this is where I grew up and I love this town and I always wanted to stay close.”

In her daily duties, Davis works with adult offenders, primarily violent offenders dealing with battery, domestic battery, intimidation and invasion-of-privacy-type cases.

“I wouldn’t say it’s hard, but it has its challenges,” Davis said. “You’ve got to get to know the type of offender you are working with and my experience in the jail really helps me with that a lot.”

Davis and two other probation officers are teaching a new 12-week parenting class at the jail, something her grant writing helped the county secure funding for from the Hancock County Community Foundation, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department and other mental health partners.

“As a boss, you always want someone creative and ambitious,” Sipes said. “How Tabitha works is she wants a program, she goes and gets trained, gets the funding for it, and says, ‘I’m ready to go.’”

Layman noted thanks to the work from Davis in securing the grant money for the parenting program, they don’t have to charge inmates to take the classes, making it a win-win situation.

“The thing about Tabitha that is great is we ask her to do one thing and she does double,” Layman said. “She’s done that from the start.”

Sipes said it’s been great to see another life-long member of the community stick around and want to make the community better.

“Our goal is not just to lock people up. We want to help them so they can be productive, and Tabitha helps us do that,” Sipes said.