A Journey- Blind

Lee Darnell

Lee Darnell
Sergeant/Public Information Officer, Pitt County (NC) Sheriff’s Office

Sometimes in life we start down a path with eyes wide open yet have no clue that we are completely blind. It isn’t until later, when looking back, that your jaw drops and you realize the path you’d taken.

I grew up as a poor kid living in the middle of nowhere. My dad had been an officer since I was five and it just felt normal to me. In the summer when school was out, I’d go with him to court to sit and watch the trials. I’d even ride along on patrol sometimes for fun. Yes, I was too young, but it was a different time.

I became a dispatcher for the sheriff’s office at age 16 while still in high school. Yes, too young. Turned out I was pretty good at it. I went to the Police Academy at the age of 19. Too young. I graduated at 20 and became a police officer. At 21 they were crazy enough to make me a sergeant. At 22 I took the helm as chief of police. Again, I was too young, but it was a different time and a very small-town department. As far as I know, I was the youngest police chief in the nation.

After a few years I got sick of small town politics (town board members- you can’t arrest him… he’s my family…you need to tear up that ticket because they said they weren’t going that fast…go borrow a drug dog so we can go door to door looking for drugs at that apartment complex… buy me a badge it’s okay.. YES, REALLY). I threw my uniform on the doorstep of a commissioner and quit. I stayed sworn with the sheriff but completed an AAS degree in EMS (paramedic), a BS in hospital administration, of all things, and an MBA with a human resources concentration. I did one semester of law school and headed home unhappy.

Most of my career in law enforcement was part-time or reserve while I worked “real” jobs with good pay. I taught at a few colleges. I managed EMS agencies. I ran a hospital emergency room. I hopped around for a few years playing here and there doing everything imaginable. Suddenly, after a tough spell in a job I found myself unemployed and had to soul search for where I belonged. It went right back to law enforcement. After a year working the jail I moved to patrol as the only rookie officer with over 20 years of experience!

After some years I transferred to be a school resource officer at a minority middle school where the kids came from a scary world that I had never experienced. Instead of making me tougher or difficult, they touched my soul and I was never the same again. I taught DARE in an elementary school. KIDS MADE IT THE BEST JOB EVER! By then I was patient, had found some common sense, and could look beyond the badge to just help the kids regardless of their struggle. I was more of a social worker, mentor, teacher, chocolate store, and parent than a cop. I am still in touch with many of those kids because they really are “mine.”

In my 40s I learned what an officer really is and can be. I learned the positive impact that can be made when you truly care and see the big picture. I also learned the impact of others who did not see things that way. Those kids taught me more about life in 3 years than 40 years of life had. One day when a new sheriff took the oath new orders dropped. A sergeant badge got pinned on my chest (two decades after my last sgt badge) and I was transferred into the office as the Public Relations & Information Officer. I love showing and telling the world what real, caring law enforcement is about. I love showing the community just how much we really do care and explaining the law enforcement world in ways that no one but us could understand. I’ve become addicted to Facebook and get paid to play there every day. I’m proud of where I am in life and work. I’m proud to have had an odd path getting here and how it shaped me. Only 6-7 more years until retirement. I don’t know what awaits me in those remaining years or what is coming when the gun belt drops for the last time. My days will still be spent loving people and serving people though. I’ll still be learning about people and life. 10-42

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