FREMONT — After 32 years of protecting citizens and property and ridding the streets of criminals, Police Chief Paul Moats Jr. is hanging up his badge.
Moats said it was a tough decision to end his career in a town that means so much to him.
“The people in Fremont have been like a second family while I have been here over the last eight years,” he said. “I really got to know the people one on one.”
Moats submitted a letter of intent to retire on April 1 to Barbara Aycock, Fremont town administrator. The announcement of his retirement was to have been Monday during the Fremont Board of Commissioners meeting, but the meeting was rescheduled to April 22 because the mayor was ill.
A quick walk down Main Street Thursday morning showed how much Moats means to the town with a population of about 1,267.
Ricky Mozingo was sitting at a table in the Capitol Café having breakfast. He hadn’t heard about Moats retiring.
“I’ll be doggone,” he said. “He’s a nice man. He’s been an outstanding police chief for the town of Fremont, very respected, and we will miss him when he is gone.”
Mozingo, who lives a couple of blocks from the café, said he has known Moats for about three years. But Mozingo had many co-workers at S.T. Wooten in Wilson who knew Moats when he was a deputy for the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office, Mozingo said.
“I’ve never heard a bad thing said about the man,” Mozingo said. “I hate to see him go. He’s not only the police chief, I consider him a friend too. … I’ll be doggone. I’m going to have to go see him after I finish breakfast.”
Across the street at Natalie’s Hair Salon, owner Natalie Newsome was styling a woman’s hair and saying she was disappointed Moats was retiring.
“Since he has been here, he’s turned this town around,” Newsome said. “We haven’t hardly had any break-ins, and he has lowered the drug activity that Fremont is so-called known for. Everybody will miss him.”
Moats also started a policy to have at least one officer on duty at all hours, which was not the case in the past, Newsome said.
“There’s a lot of single women and older ladies in Fremont by themselves, and we need them on duty 24 hours,” she said. “He started that. So, we will miss him. He’s good with the kids. He’s very friendly, and he talks to everyone.”
Moats said he could have retired two years ago, but he enjoyed his career so much and the people of Fremont he decided to stay around for a few more years.
“It has been very rewarding,” he said. “I can say I have been very lucky. During my work I have never had to shoot anybody and nobody has shot me. I consider that to be a success.”
Moats worked for 20 years at the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office before becoming police chief in Fremont. He was in the Army military police before starting his law enforcement career, he said.
There are 14 employees on the roster at the police department who work special events, the Daffodil Parade and special assignments. Many of them have full-time jobs but fill in at the police department to keep their law enforcement qualifications. Moats also oversees four full-time and two part-time officers.
He said he will miss working with them, along with the city staff and Fremont board members and especially the people of Fremont.
“Sometimes it’s a difficult task, but it is a rewarding job,” he said. “We’ve really come a long way with the crime rate in Fremont,” he said.
When he started on the force as police chief, Moats said there was open drug selling in Fremont, shootings and break-ins, and it took about 12 to 16 months to address those issues.
“Over the past five to six years the crime rate continues to go down,” Moats said. “We can’t control everything that happens; however, we’re at a point where the department is able to manage things. Last year we had one break-in, and it was solved in 36 hours. There were several guns taken and within 36 hours, during a traffic stop, we recovered a couple of the guns and made an arrest.”
Moats and his officers also made an arrest after a December homicide within 24 hours, and two other individuals involved were arrested over the following two days, he said.
It is that success he has had along with his officers and the town that also makes it hard to retire, Moats said.
“Most of the officers have been here for seven or eight years, since I started,” Moats said. “We’ve had a lot of success. It is a wonderful department and wonderful town. People here will tell you Fremont is nowhere near where it was eight years ago.”
His officers were another reason he didn’t retire two years ago, Moats said.
“It has really been the hardest decision for me to retire,” he said. “Basically, when I got to the point I could retire, I was living under fear of the town going back to the way it was or the officers not having stability, so I stayed. This is a town I wanted to protect and serve.”
Moats, who will help the town in a search for a new police chief, said he plans to take the summer off and hang out with his teenage boys. But he is thinking about asking the town of Fremont if he can keep his certification so he can work on a part-time basis at the department.
“I’ll still be involved with the community,” he said.