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Shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, a child calls about an escalating fight between her mother and her mom’s boyfriend. After that, Wilson Officer J. King makes a slow drive through a car lot to check for suspicious activity, then a loop through a neighborhood with frequent 911 calls.
Around 2:40 a.m., King looks for trouble among nightclub patrons following last call, but within a few minutes, his attention and that of a few of his fellow officers is beckoned less than a mile away after reports of a wreck that landed a vehicle in the woods.
“Each call is different and has to be looked at as a new and dynamically changing situation,” King said. “When you come to work, you never know exactly what to expect, and that’s what makes the job interesting for me. I enjoy the unknowns and that no two days at work are ever exactly the same.”
King has been a Wilson police officer for nearly four years following careers working with youth as a sports director, then as a youth pastor. During basic law enforcement training in his home town of Fayetteville, the father of three spoke with a Wilson police recruiter, Allen Jones.
“Allen made a case for the police department being on the cutting edge of community involvement and officer equipment, and as a recruit, I really enjoyed his presentation,” King said.
He said Allen’s presentation was convincing, and starting pay was good, plus the department allowed the young family to be nearer to relatives.
However, Wilson City Manager Grant Goings recently used the city’s 11.6 percent lower starting salary compared to peer cities to implement a 15 percent pay bump for the department’s starting three ranks. Goings said he’s optimistic the raise will help recruit candidates for the 13 officer vacancies and four new positions not yet filled.
News of the raise and retroactive pay was welcome among recipients, frequently serving as the department’s first interaction with the community. King said he is proud to wear a Wilson uniform, noting the effect the department’s emphasis on community outreach has not only on the prevalence of crime, but also on the relationship between police and the community they are tasked with protecting.
And while outreach through the Police Athletic League is well known, the walking patrols initiated by officers during lulls in calls garner positive reactions from Wilsonians of all ages.
“The citizens in my district have expressed a very positive reaction to officers walking in their neighborhoods and businesses,” King said. “Oftentimes it creates an opportunity for concerned citizens to have an unplanned conversation with officers about concerns in their neighborhood. Foot patrol on a daily basis is just one way that officers of the Wilson Police Department are able to implement simple elements of community policing while working patrol.”
Police Chief Thomas Hopkins recalled a similar interaction when he was in second grade that had a lasting effect on him and shaped his desire to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“I had an opportunity after his presentation to talk with him about his job. His demeanor was nice, and he was very friendly,” Hopkins said. “Maybe that is the source for my drive in ensuring we leave good impressions on the community, especially youth.”
Hopkins said he’s optimistic the department’s emphasis on community outreach makes Wilson an attractive place for officers looking for employment.
“We can teach officers to write reports. We can teach officers proper search and seizure,” Hopkins said. “But good moral character has to come from within, and that is what we look for in police officers.”
Whether officers are responding to a running car stolen outside a U.S. 301 gas station, a domestic assault or a suspected drunken driver crashing into the woods, Hopkins said he trusts his officers to exemplify the department’s focus on CPR: courtesy, professionalism and respect.
“In regards to handling the diverse types of calls you receive while on patrol, you take it one call at a time,” King said. “As an officer, you simply try to make the biggest positive difference you can on any given call regardless of the type of call.”
And that focus hasn’t swayed despite rising national tensions between officers and the public.
“I would be lying if I told you that the changing climate (toward law enforcement) has not affected me as a person or my loved ones’ perception of what I do on a daily basis. I have had moments were I strongly considered if law enforcement was the safest and most responsible decision as a father, husband and son.” King said. “However, I am a firm believer that a satisfied and fulfilled life is one that is lived for others and not one’s self.
“Each day that I make the decision to put on my uniform and go to work is a day that I have the opportunity to make a difference.”