'The person I wanted to be': York City Police Department's Tiff Lowe breaks the 'generational curse'

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

In her own words, Tiff Lowe is a person who endured failure from birth.

Her mother, unable to care for her, left Lowe in the custody of her grandmother as a small child. In the household she shared with uncles and cousins, Lowe traded cookies and crayons for drugs and guns.

"I remember seeing crackheads crawling over my balcony to come inside my house to smoke crack with my uncles," Lowe recalled. "I remember bullets coming through the front window and I had to lay down. I'm 9 years old, and I see a man getting shot right in front of me in our kitchen."

Tiff Lowe poses for a photo on Monday, May 1, 2023. Tina Locurto photo

It was normal for her home on McKenzie Street to be raided by York City Police. By age 10, she had learned how to make a crack pipe.

She was sexually abused and molested as young as 8. It was traumatic — but it was her normal.

"My grandma raised me and did the best she could with the tools that she had," Lowe said. "But in the same breath, those tools were traumatic to me as a child."

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At 16, Lowe left home and lived without housing in York City. She never got justice for the men who abused her, but both have since died, Lowe said.

"I would tell my grandmother that I wanted to be the first Black president of the United States," Lowe said. "But in the second breath I wanted to be a queenpin. I wanted to help people, but I also wanted to sell drugs — that was the product that I was raised up in. I wanted to go to the streets, not understanding that the streets were going to treat me the same way."

Tiff Lowe poses for a photo on Monday, May 1, 2023. Tina Locurto photo

'I'm going to end up dead': For Lowe, the sexual abuse she endured tipped the mental scale. She remembers thinking she would rather die than let that happen to her again.

Despite graduating from Job Corps with a high school diploma and medical assistance certification, Lowe returned to what she knew.

She had ended up in jail three or four times by 2009, the same year her mother died.

"I liked it. I liked going to jail," Lowe recalled. "It was all fun and games until my mom died. When my mom died, it wasn't funny for me anymore, because I thought if I keep doing this, I'm going to end up dead. I'm going to end up one day not getting out."

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Lowe's mother died in jail alone. She didn't get an opportunity to change.

Lowe said she knew that if she didn't change her life soon, she would meet her mother's fate.

Then her son was born.

"I thought with my mother's death, that I could make her proud. I could change. I can break generational curses," Lowe said. "I didn't want (my son) to get raised up in a house and the only thing he knows is selling drugs and smoking. I wanted him to see me go to work every day."

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Holding that tiny bundle of life in her arms, Lowe realized she had the power to make her own decisions. Little did she know her personal decision to change her life would also help hundreds of other children.

From school halls to police department: She started her new career trajectory as a hall monitor in the York City School District — which she still credits with being the best job she ever had. Lowe was recommended for the job thanks to Michael Muldrow, then chief of the district’s police department and now the York City Police commissioner, who has known Lowe since she was 14.

As a hall monitor, Lowe met many children who reminded her of herself as a child.

"I say to them what I wanted somebody to say to me: 'Are you OK?'" she recalled. "I was giving them the resources I never had. The person that I needed is the person I gave to these kids."

The 1,500 children Lowe worked with in the role saved that frightened, homeless girl deep down inside of her.

From there, Lowe became a basketball coach, then a mentor, then a teacher's aide — then she returned to school. Just two weeks ago, she submitted her final assignment to receive a bachelor's degree in education from Grand Canyon University.

Tiff Lowe poses for a photo on Monday, May 1, 2023. Tina Locurto photo

Now, Lowe works with the York City Police Department as the head of the Group Violence Intervention project. The program aims to address gun violence by reaching chronic offenders involved in group criminal activity.

She works alongside credible messenger Jess Nieves and assistant project manager Kiuanna Henderson. Nieves' role is a vital one in the community, as she responds to every shooting in York City.

"We collaborate with WellSpan and have access to enter the hospital so that we can be with the victim and their families," Lowe explained. "We offer support and resources while also pleading that there will be no retaliation."

Nieves has known Lowe for decades. The pair worked together as hall monitors in the York City School District for eight years. Nieves said she views Lowe as one of her sisters, not just a co-worker.

From left to right: Kiuana Henderson, Tiff Lowe and Jess Nieves.

"If you're not about the betterment of our community, I'll let you know," Nieves said. "And that's why I love Tiff so much, because her heart is fully invested. It's about our kids and their success."

Just last week, Lowe sat down in the comfort of her Manhattan hotel overlooking One World Trade Center.

She said she never could have imagined her life the way it is now.

"I thought I was going to be dead or in jail," Lowe said. "But I'm now the person who I wanted to be."