Donald Hall's mail carrier was usually late.
More than 30 years ago, the Tallahassee native was waiting on a letter from Florida State University police to let him know if he got an officer job he'd applied for.
But just moments before the carrier came by with the letter, the Clearwater Police Department swooped in and offered him the job.
He would stay for 33 years, working in patrol, economic crimes and eventually rising his way up to deputy chief until he recently retired. He said he may go on to teach in the future, but for now, he's got a to-do list to tackle after decades of service.
"I've been very blessed as far as my career here," Hall, 56, said. "But I know at this point it's the right thing to do for my family, it's the right thing to do for the agency to allow it to grow."
Eric Gandy, the former major of the patrol division, was promoted to Hall's spot.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How has the community, and the Police Department's relationship with the community, changed over 33 years?
I think we have a good relationship with our community. That's come with some growing pains, but it's also come with some hard work. This agency back in the '80s was probably one of the few first agencies in this area that really jumped on that community policing philosophy.
(On change in the community), Clearwater Beach blew up. When I started here, it was a mom-and-pop type of beach. It used to be more seasonal, but I think now there's no such thing as seasonal. As far as the other part of the city, there was on the north end of the city, in the North Greenwood area, you'd have a lot of club activities. I think the one thing that I saw that really kind of destroyed some parts of that community was when crack cocaine came into existence during the late '80s. The sad part about it is there are some good people that live and go to work up there every day, but there were a lot of elements that put that community in a bad light.
How has the Police Department, and, more broadly, policing in general, changed over 33 years?
Police work has changed only because of technology. When I started, we were writing out all our reports, pen and paper. With technology now, we're able to look at patterns, look at crime types, look at the types of people that may commit those crimes. Agencies in this county now probably work more closely together than when I first started. There were some territorial issues sometimes. You don't have that now.
What are some of your favorite or most memorable stories, cases, etc. you've encountered during your time with the department?
Probably the most memorable case that I can think of: I was a patrol officer, and it was my first major scene. This girl had been cut from ear to ear, and she had been stabbed — when I spoke with the detectives, they had stopped counting after 50 times. She had an ex-husband who was the jealous type. She was putting out the trash before she went to work. When she opened the door she didn't see him behind the door. He just pounced to start stabbing her. This girl survived. I almost quit right then because I said, "I can't deal with this." I was able kind of to compartmentalize it. And you have to in this job.
What has been the greatest challenge, or have been the greatest challenges, you've faced over that time?
Sometimes dealing with the miscommunication that may come out from the media. I know the media, whether it's TV media or print media, they have only so much space in the paper. TV media only has so much space to put out. And I think sometimes the challenge is making sure that the right message gets out. We make mistakes, but I think sometimes the media don't get both sides on an equal reporting basis.
What are some of the most important lessons you've learned?
To learn how to deal with multiple personalities, learning how to deal with people that are not like you, learning to deal with people that are different. Most of the time we don't see people in their best light. They're either stressed, hurt, injured, angry, you name it. I can remember one time, I arrested this person. She was drunk. The whole time I was taking her down to the county jail, she kept calling me the N-word. That kind of stuff you can't take it personally. You've got to do your job. Does it make you angry a little? Yeah. But I have to take that anger and push it all to the side and do my job.
Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.