Policing in Eastern Carolina: The Next Generation

Policing in Eastern Carolina - The Next Generation
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 6:57 PM EDT
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KENANSVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -Police departments, sheriff’s offices, and law enforcement agencies of all kinds are having a hard time filling vacancies and keeping staff.

Leaders in those departments will tell you there are a number of reasons for that including the dangers of the job, the pay, and the negativity from some in the community.

As we continue our look this week at Policing in Eastern Carolina, we’re hearing from those eager to embark on a career in law enforcement.

The journey to put on the badge begins behind a desk in the classroom. Since last fall that’s where students in the James Sprunt Community College Basic Law Enforcement Training class in Duplin County have been as they work to become law enforcement officers.

Shawn Horsley Jr. says, “I would like to help people. I know that you can’t help everybody but if I can help somebody I feel like I’m doing some good.”

Diego Benitez wants to become an officer, “To put myself out in the community and be able to help anybody out.”

Arturo Ayala says, “The main reason why me personally I want to become a law enforcement officer is cause I want to help people.”

And for Demetria Williams, “I believe, um, that you have to be the change that you would like to see.”

Their education also puts them in real-life situations they may encounter and those situations can be dangerous.

It’s a lesson Eric Southerland, retired Warsaw Police Chief, who also previously worked for the sheriff’s office and is now the BLET Director at James Sprunt can teach from firsthand knowledge. He was shot at during his career, but thankfully, not injured. “When that incident occurred thankfully no life was lost and I did take a pause but I knew that this is what I wanted to do and I was not going to turn and do something different.”

Diego Benitez knows there are dangers to the job, but says, “Ya know there’s danger in any type of job. Putting myself out there that’s just part of what I’m willing to do to help the community.”

Arturo Ayala will be the first in his family to go into law enforcement. “They know that this is a very dangerous profession. They know there’s a lot of risk to it but they also know that ya know, I’m In the hands of God and I know that everything’s gonna be OK.”

Like everyone else, these students have seen incidents of the use of police force play out across the country, some of them determined to be justified, others not. Horsley says, “I have to look at those things just as everybody in the profession has to, wonder what they did wrong so we can learn from that, or what people do right so we can also piggyback off of them to do the right thing.”

And they all say communication and community involvement will be key, which are two of the biggest things Southerland is trying to instill in them. “The most important thing is getting to know the community. The better the people in the community know the officers then the better trust there is.”

It’s that trust they’ll be working to gain as they protect and serve, some, as they also carry on family traditions.

Horsley says, “My grandfather, he was a fire marshal. He was a chief of police. My dad was a Marine. They all did something noble. I’d like to continue that and try to do something noble as well.”

Benitez says, “My dad built his name starting from nothing, um, from Texas to here in North Carolina. And my grandpa did the same thing so my dad followed in his footsteps and I would like to build a name for myself.”

For others, part of what motivates them is the ability to affect change. Ayala says, “I want to put my little, the little things that I can put to make a change and I know I can’t help everybody out there in the streets but I know if I can talk to somebody I know it will make a difference and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Williams says, “I would like to see more African American women in law enforcement so I thought that was the best option was to get involved.”

Southerland commented, “They all have the right mentality for what, or for the reasons they’re getting into it and it is to help people and that’s the most important thing we can do is help our citizens and our communities.”

All the students also know that the pay could be better, but they say they’re not getting into law enforcement for the money.

Friday we’ll wrap up our week-long series on Policing in Eastern Carolina as we talk with law enforcement leaders on their expectations and where they see the profession going.

Click here to watch Wednesday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: Community Expectations.

Click here to watch Tuesday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: Deadly Dangers.

Click here to watch Monday’s report on Policing in Eastern Carolina: The Veteran and the Rookie.