July 01--HICKORY, N.C.
A generation of schoolchildren has grown up under the watchful eye of Master Police Officer Paul Murphy. Murphy spent 18 of his 35-year law enforcement career as the school resource officer and the DARE officer at Northview Middle School, Viewmont Elementary School and Jenkins Elementary School.
When he wasn't teaching children about the dangers of drugs, he was making sure they make the right decisions in other aspects of their lives, too. His focus was on building relationships with the students and their families.
"My goal was not to arrest the kids, but to make sure they knew why what they'd done was a bad idea," he said. "One parent told me, 'My son's not afraid of getting into trouble -- he's afraid of disappointing you.'"
Murphy often visits Hickory High School where he sees students he first met when they were in kindergarten. By working to be a positive influence in their lives during the 13 years it takes to get to graduation, he's built a legacy.
Several of his students have followed his example and gone into law enforcement on the local, state and federal levels. He recently caught up with a student he hadn't seen for a while.
"He came up to me and said, 'Do you realize you're the reason I graduated high school -- if you hadn't stayed on me, I wouldn't have graduated,'" Murphy recalled.
After spending 35 years serving his community and its children, Murphy, 55, has decided to retire from the Hickory Police Department. His last day on the job was Friday.
Murphy's law enforcement career started a month after his 20th birthday when he became a Lenoir police officer. The year was 1977.
"I didn't know a thing about being a cop -- I was the greenest rookie ever," he said.
After just over a year, he got hired on at the Granite Falls Police Department where he worked for three years before taking a job as the chief of security at Caldwell Memorial Hospital.
Murphy's friend, Ed Whisnant was a Hickory cop and asked Murphy to ride along with him as he patrolled the city one night in 1986. Whisnant and Murphy went on call after call to keep the peace in the city. Murphy was used to the leisurely pace of police work in Granite Falls and Lenoir. The non-stop action of a night shift that only felt about two hours long convinced Murphy that he wanted to get back into police work full time.
"I thought my kids would be more proud of their dad if I was a police officer than if I was just a security guard," Murphy said. "I guess that's the biggest reason I made the switch -- I wanted to make my kids proud."
He got hired onto HPD's C-Platoon and started patrolling the city. The platoon became a brotherhood, but after a few years, some of Murphy's fellow officers transferred and took other jobs. Murphy decided to take a job patrolling Union Square and the surrounding streets.
"I was responsible for everything that happened down there," he said. "I developed a lot of good friendships with the merchants downtown."
He'd spent five years on foot patrol when he sat in on a DARE class being taught by one of his fellow officers. The officer had spent five years as a school resource officer and asked Murphy if he'd like to switch assignments. Murphy agreed immediately.
"I was very lucky to spend 18 years in a job I love," he said. "This is the best job I've ever had."
After serving 35 years, he's chosen to retire as a master police officer.
"If I were promoted to sergeant, I would have had to leave the DARE program and I didn't want to do that," he said.
A couple of years ago he bought a 2006 Harley Davidson Super Glide. The plan was to have the bike parked outside the police department on his last day. When he got off work for the final time, he was going to get on his Harley and ride all the way down to Key West.
Now he's got a young son and a daughter and a new job waiting for him one week after he leaves law enforcement. He'll be working at Hickory's Harley store and taking shorter rides. Key West will have to wait.
Murphy said his decision to leave law enforcement came when the Harley store offered him a job and the city offered him an incentive to retire earlier than he'd planned. His last couple of weeks at the school were filled with tearful goodbyes. Murphy said his only regret is that he wasn't able to say goodbye to all of the children he'd grown so close to over the years.
"I'm inviting any of my former DARE students and their families to my retirement ceremony," he said. "I really hope they'll come out."
Murphy's ceremony will be held at the Hickory Police Department on Aug. 2 from 3 until 5 p.m.
Copyright 2012 - Hickory Daily Record, N.C.