LUMBERTON — City law enforcement filled the Godwin Heights Community Building recently to bid a bittersweet farewell to five of their colleagues — and more than 100 years of combined experience.
“This is an exciting time for these guys,” said Lumberton Police Chief Mike McNeill, “but there’s a lot of knowledge going out of the door with them.”
Monday marked the first day of retirement for Lumberton police Capt. Johnny Barnes and Sgts. Don Ward and Burnis Wilkins. By the start of the new year, the department will be wi thout Sgt. Greg Jacobs and material and inventory specialist Kenny Sinclair.
The five join Capt. Earl Jones, who retired in October, and Lt. Danny Strickland, who left the force in June, taking with them a combined experience of 50 years. McNeill said that the department has prepared for the personnel shift as much as possible, but that the level of knowledge, wisdom and experience will take time to rebuild.
“These guys had it all,” he said. “They were from the old school. And we’re trying to instill in these new guys that all these things are important.
“Knowledge can take you far, but experience is key. Until you get out there and get in the dogfight yourself, you have a limited idea of what really goes on in police work.”
Vanessa Burton, an assistant district attorney in Robeson County, said losing so much experience is “a little scary.”
“They know how to work with people. They have relationships with all the other agencies, they know what they’re doing,” she said. “… There’s just so much you lose. So it’s a little scary but I’m happy for them — sad for me.”
Members of law enforcement are able to retire at a younger age than most professions. For these officers, retirement is less about putting their feet up and more about donning a new pair of shoes — and being able to take them off from time to time.
“It’s like a new chapter,” Jacobs said. “It’s going to be strange to wake up that first morning and realize that you don’t have to get up and go to work.”
A part-time pharmacy technician, Jacobs will also be an axillary officer, along with Wilkins and Barnes, who both will continue to teach Basic Law Enforcement Training at Robeson Community College. Ward will be working as a full-time phlebotomist at a pediatric clinic, and Sinclair hopes to be more involved in his church.
“I don’t plan to be tied to a clock eight to five anymore,” Sinclair said. “That’s my whole thing right there.”
But the officers say they will miss the camaraderie with other members of their team, and serving a community they love.
“It’s just a big, huge family and we all understand what we’re going through,” Wilkins said. “We see traumatic events — what most people only see on TV, we see in real life.”
“You depend on each other so much,” Barnes said. “Each person that works alongside of you there’s times that come that you may actually put there life in your hands. So it is a special bond.”
“I’m going to miss the job,” Jacobs said. “I’m going to miss what I do, and I’m going to miss the people I work with, also you know helping people, I’m going to miss being able to go out and help somebody and try to make a difference. All that, I’m going to really miss.”
“We’re all like family, so once they leave, they start a brand new life, or a brand new portion of it,” police Lt. Sheron Shooter said. “We’re still going to be here, and they’re starting a new journey in life that we won’t be a part of — but it will be a new adventure.”
“I’m going to be pretty busy,” Barnes said. “It ain’t like I’m going to be fishing every day, but maybe I’ll have a day or two during the week to have some extra time to do what I want to do.”