YARMOUTH — Darryl Watkins was just a few years out of high school, working as a dispatcher and part-time deputy with the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office, when he got word from someone at the Yarmouth Police Department that they had an opening.
Watkins, whose wife and high-school sweetheart, Carol, was pregnant with their first child at the time, went and met with Chief Leo Rafferty.
“He made me shake his hand and promise that if he hired me, I would stay here at least one year,” Watkins said.
“And that was 40 years ago.”
After four decades on the job, Sgt. Watkins, 62, will retire at the end of the month. Looking back on his career, he said he has a few regrets, but a lot more fond memories.
Throughout his years on the force, Watkins witnessed the modernization of police work, from equipment, to technology, to training.
“Every year it’s getting more and more sophisticated,” Watkins said. “It’s like a farmer going from a horse and a plow to GPS-controlled tractors in the fields.”
His introduction to the job was even more of a whirlwind.
“I was hired on a Monday, started on a Wednesday. I had an officer ride with me for a few hours that first night and that was it. I was on my own,” Watkins said. “Most every officer that gets hired nowadays has an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in law enforcement before they get hired, so that has changed tremendously. They don’t work on the street until they get back from the academy. They’re very highly educated and well trained, which is the complete opposite of when I started.”
But some things never change.
Yarmouth is still a small town. Today Watkins knows many of the people he passes on the streets, just like the officers he worked with when he was starting out. He said he regularly deals with the grandchildren of people he dealt with during his early days on the job.
And though their tools may have changed, quality officers have always had one thing in common, Watkins said: a desire to help others.
He said he’ll never forget the night he helped stop an arson fire during the construction of the new Town Hall, or when he saved hundreds of chickens from a burning coop on North Road, or the times he’s helped older people who’ve been duped by Internet scam artists into thinking their long-lost Nigerian cousins just died and left them a massive inheritance.
“Things like that make you feel good,” Watkins said.
There are also those nights he’d just as soon forget: the ones marked by suicide, domestic violence or fatal car accidents. Watkins was working on the night in August 1993 when 15-year-old Beth Condon was struck and killed by a drunk driver, a tragedy that rocked the community.
“You’ve got to put those things out of your mind,” Watkins said. “Then one day, all of a sudden, something will trigger it. I’ve seen a lot of things that people should never have to see, but it comes with the job and you learn to live with it.”
Watkins said the best part of the job, the part that helped him cope with its darker moments, was the brotherhood among the officers.
“The people I work with here are a great bunch of guys,” Watkins said. “We really are brothers. Working with these young guys makes me feel young. Most weeks I see more of these guys than I do my blood family.”
Watkins admitted, however, that he wishes he hadn’t missed so much of his kids’ childhoods, from sporting events to school plays, because he was working.
“You realize as you get older, those are probably the things you should’ve paid closer attention to,” he said. “It’s done and you can’t change it, but some of the regrets I have are all the holidays and family functions my wife and kids had to spend without me because I was working.”
Come January, Watkins will have as much time as he wants to enjoy his family. When they’re not spending time with their children, Andrea, 39, and Rebecca, 33, and grandchildren, he and Carol plan to spend the winter snowmobiling and ice fishing. During the summer they’ll camp at Moosehead and Sebago lakes, and someday, they hope to take a trip to the Grand Canyon.
“After 40 years, it’s time,” Watkins said. “My wife and I decided we’re at the age where we want to do what we want to do.”
Sgt. Darryl Watkins will retire at the end of the month after 40 years with the Yarmouth Police Department.