BENSON – Police Chief Kenneth Edwards retired earlier this month after more than 20 years in Benson. An official sendoff was planned, but with Coronavirus affecting gatherings and the normal day-to-day operations that sendoff has been postponed until people can once again safely assemble and celebrate Chief Edwards and his contributions to Benson.
Chief Edwards sat down recently for a brief interview and to share his thoughts on his own retirement, his history in policing, his time in Benson, and his experiences with the community he has spent more than two decades serving.
Tell us about your early years in law enforcement, how did you end up in Benson?
“I started at the Coats Police Department where I was a patrol officer — I worked there for a little over five months. Then, I had an opportunity to go work for the Sampson County Sheriff’s Department… I went there as a deputy and within the first year they had an opening in narcotics. I was promoted to narcotics [in Sampson County] where I served until 1996.”
“I lived closer to Benson at the time and the opportunity presented itself for me to come here. Scott Epperson was leaving [the Benson Police Department] then — he was a lieutenant — and they offered me that position coming in the door… Six months after I got here, our Captain went out with a disability, which left a vacancy there, and within that first year-and-a-half I was promoted to captain. So, for 22 of the last 24 years, I’ve either been Captain or Chief of Police.”
What kept you here in Benson? What was it about this town that led you to stay until retirement?
“The people we serve. To me, and I’ve said this a lot — it’s not a political thing for me — the people in town are absolutely the best of any community I’ve ever been in my life. I have always been a rural Dunn resident, but I can tell you what I consider to be the premier location is Benson.”
“I’ve also had the opportunity to serve under some really good managers. Keith Langdon gave me an opportunity when he didn’t have to. I will always be grateful for that opportunity. Fred Nelson has also been unbelievable to work for, he has been supportive in everything that I wanted to do since he’s taken over and I think he has done an outstanding job.”
“I think we’ve come a long way in the last 24-plus years. Not just as a police department, but also as a town.”
You’ve spoken before about “updating” the police department during your early days here, explain that some.
“I would say we have as good of equipment now as we’ve ever had. [In the past] there were officers sharing cars, some of [those cars] were not in the best of condition when I came to Benson. You know, it wasn’t any single person’s fault, it just wasn’t a priority at the time.”
“We made some of those things a priority. We modernized our reporting systems, our record management system, and some of this has been done statewide, but we were among the first agencies in the area to implement some of these things.”
“We were involved, locally, in establishing the parameters for take-home cars for officers. That has now become part of your equipment just like a duty belt or your badge. Those are things that I am pleased we were able to accomplish.”
What do you think about Benson today — in 2020?
“I think, overall, Benson has a relatively low crime rate — compared to other towns around us and towns of comparable size around the state. I have always been a drug-agent at heart, whether or not I was actively functioning as one. For Benson to be positioned where we are — at Interstates 40 and 95 — the primary drug corridors, we have a relatively low crime rate.”
“Now we’re going to have our problems, as all towns do, and they’re going to pop up from time to time. But I think, because of how unique we are, when these problems pop up they may seem worse than they actually are compared to other places.”
“Plus, there are always resources, there was always someone in the community willing to help. And I know of communities not so far away that that is just unheard of. That’s what makes Benson unique. That’s what makes Benson home to me. That’s the draw.”
During your time here in Benson, you spoke a lot about how your department’s focus was always on the community as a whole — can you share the idea behind that mindset?
“I told Fred Nelson a story the other day that’s very personal to me — to qualify what I’m saying about the people of Benson.”
“Many people may not recall, but several years ago I had a traumatic experience where my granddaughter died. One of the things that occurred then, and it became real to me — tangible then — was the fact that during the course of that the people of this community came to together and essentially paid for that funeral.”
“Whether or not you attribute that to what they thought of me as an individual, Police Chief, or having sympathy for my granddaughter passing — whatever it was — that’s the hearts of the people that we serve.”
“And that’s not the only situation, that’s my personal story. And I know of literally dozens and dozens of times, as a community, we found a need for a family or person and we we are able to reach out.”
Captain Greg Percy is now the Interim Police Chief, tell us a little bit about working with Greg.
“Greg was here when I came to Benson. He left briefly, but when I took over as chief, he was one of the first people I hired back and I hired him as captain. We’ve seen a lot of things together, we’ve had a lot of professional and personal interactions.”
“I am one hundred percent convinced that he has all the tools to run the police department and carry on what I feel like is an above average customer service. That was always a big thing to me… I look at Benson as a community, not a divided community. I think he shares that ideology — I’ve said that openly in board meetings and everywhere else. He’s got a good work ethic and he understands fully that a lot of the public doesn’t know that this isn’t an 8-5 Monday to Friday job. Law enforcement in general is a sacrifice, but as a law enforcement leader, you put yourself out there and people have an expectation. You’re really putting yourself out there 24/7, seven days a week.”
What is your advice to young officers today or those considering a career in law enforcement?
“I think it takes a commitment as an individual. Particularly in a police department in a small town, you have to be extremely tolerant and understanding of your public’s needs. You have to search your soul and define for yourself what you’re willing to do, how much sacrifice you’re willing to make — because of that commitment.”
“I can’t be all things to all people, but I can surround myself with people who makeup for my deficiencies. Once you figure out what your specialty is, you have to be supported by other people — none of us can do this by ourselves.”
“You’ve got to really search down deep and determine if this job is for you. I will tell you the same thing I’ve told some officers to their face as they were leaving — this job is not for everybody.”
“You have to have a sound mind, you have to have the ability to laugh at certain things, and you have to be prepared for some things that will bother you personally — that you carry with you. You won’t ever forget some of the experiences that you have.”
Is there anything you would like to add?
“When you asked me why I stayed here… it was a very difficult decision for me to retire. I talked about it for some time, but I really didn’t have an endgame in mind until I found out I was [close to retirement]… and I’ll be honest with you, the Good Lord and the people of the Town of Benson have supported me throughout the years. They’ve provided me a means to support my family.”
“I just want to say thank you to the people in the Town of Benson for the support they’ve shown me over the years… I want everybody to know how appreciative I am for the family atmosphere that the citizens of this town and the business owners have provided to me.”