02/06/11 — GPD D.A.R.E. officer retiring

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GPD D.A.R.E. officer retiring

By Gary Popp
Published in News on February 6, 2011 1:50 AM

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Retired Goldsboro police officer Willie Thomas smiles during a retirement ceremony with his wife Dolores beside him.

For more than 16 years Cpl. Willie Thomas has served as the face of D.A.R.E. in schools throughout Goldsboro.

Now, with 23 years at the Goldsboro Police Department, Thomas is handing in his shield.

"I don't think the full impact of not being a police officer has hit me yet," Thomas said. "I am just so used to going into the classrooms,"

Thomas estimates he has mentored 9,800 kids through the D.A.R.E. program. And by working as a football coach for more than 20 years in five different Goldsboro schools, Thomas has been a positive figure for an even larger group of young people.

"It has been a real joy to be around these kids for so many years," Thomas said.

Through D.A.R.E. and athletics, Thomas has provided a exemplary model for a generation Goldsboro youths.

Thomas said he often sees people in the community that he previously instructed through D.A.R.E.

"I have ran into young women who I once taught in D.A.R.E. who introduced me to their children," Thomas said. "It feels good when young people remember me in a positive way."

Thomas said he had a knack of reaching the kids who were often considered troubled students.

"I never had any trouble with them," Thomas said. "All some of them need is someone to show a little love and caring."

Thomas said he is very thankful of all the school administrators who have allowed him to provide the D.A.R.E. program to their students.

"I wish we had more preventative programs like D.A.R.E.," Thomas said. "I think we need to catch these young people before the they are introduced to gangs, drugs and peer pressures."

Now, however, the D.A.R.E. program is ending and a new effort, focused on students in grades four through seven, is taking its place.

The new program, called G.R.E.A.T., for Gang Resistance and Training, will focus more on gang education, but also on drug resistance, life skills and conflict resolution. Taking over for Thomas will be Cpl. Robbie Jones and Cpl. Ronald McDuffie.

And so for Thomas, the end of a long career with the city police department is coming at a time of transition. Having served under five police chiefs, Thomas' retirement is coming just about a month before current Chief Tim Bell also will be stepping down. But during his nearly quarter of a century of service, Thomas says he has made some deep bonds with people at the department.

"Certain parts of the job are like a family," Thomas said. "We eat, laugh and cry together. It is a real family atmosphere."

Thomas said the hardest part of retiring is leaving behind the friendship and love of the department.

"I am really thankful for the department and the people here," Thomas said.

Thomas said he has also received a lot of support from his wife and three kids as he has prepared to enter retirement.

"They are happy for me, especially, my wife." Thomas said. "In 35 years of marriage, she has supported me everyday. She is my backbone."

Along with spending more time with his family, Thomas said his retirement plans include going to college part-time, coaching football and basketball, and continuing to reach out to kids.

"I want to keep working in the schools," Thomas said. "I want to guide people as much as a can."