Closing a career
Tom Deighton saw a lot of changes in nearly 30 years as a police officer in Lenoir, from the addition of vehicles in the city’s fleet to advances in technology. Now, he’s stepping away from a career that has been rewarding for him.
Deighton’s final day with Lenoir Police Department was Friday. He began his career with LPD on Oct. 29, 1984, as a patrol officer. When he finished leading the Christmas parade Friday night, his tenure in law enforcement came to a close.
“Looking back, I really have good memories,” Deighton said. “It was a job I took because my family needed to eat; I didn’t really know then what I wanted to do. But once I got into it, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Once you get into police work, it’s in your blood, that adrenaline rush and the desire to help people. You see the good and the bad, but meeting the people you do in the community makes it all worth it.”
A native of Ohio, Deighton moved to Boone when he got out of the Coast Guard and later to Wilkes County before settling in Caldwell. When he started at LPD he spent four hours on duty and four hours attending basic law enforcement school as a rookie. Twenty-eight years later, he leaves with the rank of captain.
“I just wanted to be a sergeant at some point; that was my goal,” said Deighton. “I never imagined I’d climb the ladder this way. I was very fortunate to have some good supervisors to learn from, and I’ve worked with good chiefs. This is higher that I ever thought I would attain.”
When he first started, there were four patrol cars shared by officers, and walkie-talkies had to be signed out, sometimes even before they could be recharged from use by the previous shift. Now, the fleet has expanded, computers are in cars, and all reports can be filed electronically. Those are just a few of the technological advances that have changed police work.
“The changes have made the job more efficient now,” Deighton said. “Technology has been the biggest change I’ve seen in my 28 years.”
Hired by former chief Terry Crisp, Deighton also served as a patrol sergeant, patrol lieutenant, professional standards logistics lieutenant, captain of support services and captain of patrol. He advanced through the ranks, working for four different police chiefs: Crisp, Jack Warlick, Joey Reynolds and Scott Brown.
In all, Deighton spent 13 years on the road and 15 in an administrative position.
One of the most difficult aspects about making the decision to step away – using sick time and military time built up to receive full retirement benefits – is leaving the people he works with on a daily basis.
“Walking away from all these people I’ve worked with is tough,” the 54-year-old Deighton said. “These men and women have been family to me. That’s one of the things I’ll miss about this job. I won’t miss the stresses of dealing with all the issues, but I sure will miss the people. Being with them and forging those relationships has been an enjoyable part of being in this field.”
Deighton said he’s always tried to make the job fun, each and every day.
“I’ve tried to come to work and have fun,” he said. “Yes, there can be serious matters we deal with, but I’ve tried to make it as fun as possible. I don’t dread coming to work. For 28 years I’ve been able to come in have fun and do something I love.”
Law enforcement can be a dangerous profession, and Deighton has been well aware of the risks throughout his career. He encourages young officers not to give up when thing may not go their way.
“There’s a daily thought that you may not go home at the end of the day, but if you didn’t have that thought you would not approach what you do in a tactical fashion,” he said. “If this is what you’re going to do, hang in and work through the tough times. Don’t give up. The hours are not the best, the pay is not the best and the working conditions are not the best. But you don’t do this job for the money or working conditions. You do it for the love of the job and to help others.”
A long-time proponent of the American Field Service foreign exchange program, Deighton and his wife Maria have three children and have hosted four students through the years. Traveling to see some of those students may be an option in retirement, though Deighton has not determined exactly what his future holds.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll just have to see what happens. For now I want to enjoy retirement. But I don’t want to sit back and do nothing.”
He has expressed an interest in possibly pursuing a magistrate’s position if one comes open in the future, but he is certain that his time with LPD is at its end.
“I’m ready to try something new,” Deighton said. “A lot of people are coming up behind me. There are some good young officers here. It’s time to let some new IDs come in.”