I’ve led a charmed life.
By that I mean, at various times in my life special people have been placed in my path who created opportunities.
These weren’t always positive influences – and some of those folks made things so uncomfortable for me that I took a different direction in life – but, like a very wise friend likes to say, “there are no wrong turns.”
Whenever those chances presented themselves, it was up to me to trust my hunches, seize the moment, work hard and make the most of it.
When I was young – maybe 14 – I was fortunate to participate in the Ormond Beach Police Explorer program, one of the first community outreach efforts which brought officers together with area youth and provided training and ride-along opportunities to introduce law enforcement as a possible career choice.
In 1975, Officer Al “Tubby” Monroe responded to an armed robbery in progress at an Ormond Beach store.
He was shot and seriously wounded during a confrontation with the suspects.
That afternoon, members of the Police Explorer Post stood side-by-side with sworn officers and participated in a supervised grid search for physical evidence in a vacant field near the robbery scene.
From that moment, I was hooked.
I loved everything about it.
Those Explorer programs – in Ormond Beach, and later at the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office – gave me the opportunity to see law enforcement officers as friends and mentors, and provided invaluable basic training in forensics, patrol techniques, defensive tactics and the command and control of crime scenes and critical incidents that served me well throughout my career.
Despite the best advice of my father, who literally begged me to go to college before starting my career, I explained to my then wife that I was going to pursue my dream of becoming a police officer.
I borrowed the tuition from my grandmother – quit my job in the installment loan department of New Smyrna’s old Coronado Beach Bank – and entered the fall 1982 Basic Recruit Training class at Daytona Beach Community College, under the tutelage of Director Bruce Wragg and the incomparable Daytona Beach Police Lieutenant Noel Ouellette.
By then, I had graduated from the United States Army’s Military Police School at Ft. McClellan, Alabama, and was serving as a member of the 345th MP Company, 1st Platoon, an escort guard unit of the Army Reserve then housed at the Daytona Beach Yacht Basin.
I had been sponsored to “rookie school” by the Port Orange Police Department after a wonderful interview with one of my life-long heroes – then Lt. John Kirvan – when the POPD was housed in an old mobile home near the corner of US-1 and Dunlawton Avenue.
Upon graduation from recruit training in early 1983, I responded to an advertisement with the City of Holly Hill Police Department.
At that time, my father had a neighborhood insurance office in Holly Hill in a building just south of the old “Golden Arches” of McDonald’s. His former office is a pawn shop now.
My dad told me how much he enjoyed working in the community – about how wonderful the people were – and encouraged me to interview for the position.
At the very least, he said, it would be good practice if I didn’t get the job.
On the appointed date, I got a haircut and dressed in a business suit borrowed from my dad (believe it or not, “dressing for success” was something job applicants used to do as a matter of routine), took the Civil Service test, then sat nervously for an interview with the always imposing figure of Chief John P. Finn.
I remember everything about that conversation with my future boss, mentor and friend.
He was (and remains) an externally gruff, always irascible, incredibly sharp and privately sweet man who did more for me, personally and professionally, than I can ever repay.
He told me in plain English things police officers should know, like, “A woman’s ass and a whiskey glass, make a man a horse’s ass,” meaning that the demise of many promising law enforcement careers – then and now – are the result of alcohol and bad decisions (regardless of gender or orientation.)
And he made it clear that he wouldn’t abide a “thief or a liar” – but of the two, he’d rather have the thief.
When he issued the oath, Chief Finn looked me hard in the eye and told me plain that the one inviolate rule of our profession was to never tell a lie.
Later in life, I would make certain that anyone I hired as a police officer agreed to uphold that sacred tradition of our service.
At that time, many police departments didn’t have the formal field training and evaluation programs that we use today. Early on, a great old sergeant showed me and the other new hires the city limits, where to find the locker room, and issued each of us a complement of used uniforms – 100% cotton dark brown shirt with pink tan pants – and our “brass” – collar devices, name plate and a traffic whistle on a silver chain.
The rest of your equipment – gun, leather, handcuffs, etc. – you bought and supplied yourself.
After being hired in the job description “Patrolman” I was, quite literally, thrown a set of car keys, located my assigned vehicle in the parking lot (with a single blue light on the roof and an ancient Motorola Mocom radio) and drove off into the night to patrol the streets and interpret the Constitution.
I will never forget the abject fear of making my first stop – a speeding violation on Center Street around 3 o’clock in the morning.
I had absolutely no idea where I was.
In fact, I was so confused that I let the offender go with a warning, because I was too embarrassed to tell the dispatcher that I was lost.
For the next 31-years, I enjoyed an incredibly blessed career in service to the best people in the world.
Everything I wanted happened for me in that small department – including acceptance to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s school – and, ultimately, as my agency’s first appointment to the prestigious FBI National Academy at Quantico, Virginia.
My career included all the triumphs and tragedies that one would expect in a role so critically important to the life of a small, close-knit community.
Perhaps most important, I had the opportunity to serve with some of the finest professionals in the business – and I took great pride in watching my agency grow from a somewhat backwards department into a respected agency with modern capabilities, equipment and progressive leadership.
In 2009, my great friend and incredibly talented former boss, Don Shinnamon, became Chief of Police in Port St. Lucie, Florida – and I was offered the job in Holly Hill.
I had no formal education or degrees in police management or leadership, but I had a Ph.D. in policing my beloved community.
I knew everyone in town, and I had literally swept the floors in City Hall. To this day, like an old friend, I know every nook and idiosyncrasy of that beautiful building.
With the encouragement of my family and peers – I accepted the position and, for the next five-years, I enjoyed the most wonderful time of my career.
I honorably retired from active service in March 2014 – 31-years to the day from when I was sworn-in by Chief Finn.
To commemorate my career, and all that it has meant to me and my family – for the past three months I sat with the incredibly talented artist Jeff Henry at The Nine’s Parlor in Daytona Beach, and completed a tattoo.
It is a permanent tribute to the opportunities I was given, the great accomplishments of my professional life, and in honor of those with whom I was so incredibly privileged to have served with in local law enforcement.
In so many ways, my career was the only thing I ever “got right” in my life, and I never want to forget it.
Any of it.
The good. The bad. The painful. The incredible joy and unimaginable grief – the blood, sweat and tears. The utter boredom and the horrific moments of terror.
The great accomplishments and the terrible failures. All of it.
On my left forearm Jeff placed a haunting quote from the Roman historian Tacitus – which is conspicuously inscribed in a place of honor at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.:
“In Valor There Is Hope”
To those I served with – and those I had the privilege of serving – thank you.
This permanent tribute – and my everlasting love and appreciation – belong to all of you.
All of you wonderful friends, family and colleagues on the Honor Roll of my life.