Published 5:21 pm Friday, December 8, 2023
AHOSKIE – Over the course of its 130-year history, the Town of Ahoskie has witnessed many historic moments, the latest one taking place Tuesday afternoon.
In front of a standing-room only crowd at the Town Council meeting room, located at the Ahoskie Fire Station, Michele Garrett accepted the oath as Chief of Police, marking the first time a female has held that lofty rank.
Garrett, who joined the Ahoskie Police Department (APD) in 1990, has spent her entire law enforcement career with APD. She retired in June of this year at which time she was the Captain of the APD’s Patrol Division. She opted to come out of retirement and apply for the position upon the retirement of Chief Jimmy Asbell on Oct. 20.
“I had several other agencies reaching out to me about coming to work for them,” she admitted. “When this job opened up I applied.
“I felt so humbled when I got the phone call about being chosen as Ahoskie Police Chief,” Garrett added. “It was a dream come true.”
As for being the first-ever female to hold the police chief’s job in Ahoskie, Garrett sets the standard for others to follow.
“For me breaking that barrier, I can only hope it gives inspiration to others to never give up on their dreams,” she said. “The sky is the limit. What God has in store for you is always there, you just have to work hard to get it. Good things do come to those who wait.”
Garrett, a native of Plymouth, said her father, who worked as a jailer at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, inspired her to seek employment in law enforcement.
“I remember when I was in high school, after school I would walk over to the Sheriff’s Office, which wasn’t that far, and just hang around there with my dad and a lot of the deputies,” Garrett recalled. “I guess that led me to become interested in law enforcement.”
She enrolled at St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, opting to major in Criminal Justice, before returning home to complete the BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training) program at Beaufort Community College in 1989.
She was hired in September of 1990 as a part-time patrol officer in Ahoskie under then Chief Jake Willoughby. Garrett became a full time officer in March of 1991 and spent the next 32 years with the same agency.
“Chief Willoughby should be proud…out of all the ones he hired, I’m the one that stayed here the longest,” Garrett smiled. “I didn’t leave because I had put my roots down in Ahoskie; I made connections, I became a part of a community that I call home,” she said.
Along the way, Garrett worked for four police chiefs: Willoughby, Steve Hoggard, Troy Fitzhugh, and Jimmy Asbell.
“I learned a lot from all four of them,” Garrett stated. “Their styles were different, but all believed in helping their officers stay up to date with their training and making sure we had all the tools and resources needed to do our jobs professionally.”
The biggest changes Garrett has witnessed during her 30-plus years in law enforcement are the advances in technology used today by officers.
“I can remember back when I was working for Chief Willoughby there were no cell phones,” she said. “At some point in time under Chief Hoggard we got pagers. And now we have smartphones, in-car computers, and body cameras. We’ve come a long way.”
So has Garrett. She rose in rank with the APD, promoted to Patrol Sergeant in 1998; Patrol Lieutenant in 2004; Lieutenant Detective in 2007 and later the same year was named Captain of Criminal Investigations. In 2014 she shifted back over to the Patrol Division as their Captain.
All the while, Garrett had ambitions to rise to the Chief’s office.
“That was always a dream of mine to become Chief of Police,” she stressed. “I’m speaking for myself, but I can’t imagine someone getting into law enforcement that didn’t want to advance to the top. It takes hard work and dedication to get there, but I can say that getting here was worth that sacrifice.”
As for her goals as the APD Chief, Garrett said community relations tops that list.
“When I started in law enforcement, we were respected and we respected those we served,” Garrett recalled. “We have seen how that works, but there is now a gap in that relationship. My goal is to bridge that gap. We need to get back to treating everybody with dignity and respect. I also want to improve transparency within this department. It’s best to be straight forward in the beginning.”
Garrett also stressed the need for a community wide effort to steer children away from gangs, which, in turn, will hopefully lower the crime rate.
“I’m a believer that it takes a village to raise a child and we need to get back to that,” she said. “We need parents, the court system, mental health, churches, schools, local businesses, and more to become the village.”
As far as the staff at APD is concerned, Garrett said no changes are in store.
“There’s no need to reinvent; what we’re doing now is working,” she noted. “I look forward to working alongside these outstanding men and women of the Ahoskie Police Department. I know them; they know me.
“And we still need our community to reach out to us if they see anything happening out of the ordinary. If you see something, say something,” Garrett closed.
“Michele, we are excited about what we know you’ll be able to do for this town,” said Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White at Tuesday’s swearing in ceremony. “We are excited that you will be leading us in our continued fight against violence and crimes. We know that if someone comes to our town and commits a crime, you and your brave staff will set them straight.”
Also attending the ceremony was Eddie M. Buffaloe Jr., North Carolina Department of Public Safety Secretary.
“Today marks history in Ahoskie as the glass ceiling has been broken as you have appointed Michele Garrett as the first African American female police chief,” Buffaloe said at the outset of his remarks.
“There’s only a very few people who can get you out of Raleigh on a Tuesday afternoon to drive two hours to speak for three minutes,” Buffaloe continued. “One of them is Michele Garrett, who is a well respected public servant who leads with compassion and empathy. She is a God fearing woman who will protect all citizens.”
On behalf of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the 20,000 Department of Public Safety employees across the state, Buffaloe said he had the authority to fly the State Flag of North Carolina over the State Capitol on Monday in honor of Garrett. He presented her that flag at Tuesday’s ceremony.
“As this flag flew high on Monday above the Capitol, it withstood the rain, the wind, the darkness of night and the lightness of day,” Buffaloe noted. “Starting today, I want you to fly high just as this flag did.”