First Posted: 10/17/2009
Being in law enforcement is a childhood dream come true for Dale Watson.
Many young kids are asked what they want to be when they grow up, and some answer doctor, teacher or firefighter.
For Watson, from the time he was in third- or fourth-grade, the answer was always the same police officer.
Unlike many of the kids who are asked and end up doing something completely different when they do grow up, Watson is in the profession he chose as a child law enforcement.
I grew up in Boone, said the new chief of the Mount Airy Police Department. I guess the interest in law enforcement started in third- or fourth-grade. I think what happened was we had an occupational day and different services came in to talk to us.
Something about the members of the local law enforcement agency speaking stuck in Watsons mind, and he knew, despite being so young, that enforcing the law would be the career path he would enter.
What they said and the way they carried themselves was impressive and it drew my interest from there, he said.
I had an initial interest in it, and as I grew older, something kept drawing me back to the profession it was the community service aspect and a way to help others. I always thought about that.
After attending Watauga High School for three years, Watson transferred to Beaver Creek High School in West Jefferson, which was consolidated with other Ashe County high schools in the 1990s, where he finished his senior year and graduated.
Beaver Creek is also where Watson would meet his high school sweetheart and future wife, Celena.
In high school, it was the time of the Desert Storm era, and I pondered the thought of joining the service, but then changed my mind, Watson explained.
The long hours and routine work of a factory job, as well as the indoor atmosphere, didnt suit Watson, so he left the job he had taken at the factory to go back to school.
At that point, I realized how important education was if I wanted to pursue something, he said.
Watson enrolled in the Associate in Criminal Justice program at Wilkes Community College, from which he graduated in 1993.
I still wanted more. I didnt want to limit the jobs I would be eligible for, so I transferred to Appalachian State University and graduated with a B.S. in criminal justice in December 1995.
After completing school, Watson had to decide if he was interested in local, state or federal law enforcement opportunities, so he researched what was available.
Around the same time, he and Celena became engaged and they made a deal with each other the first one to get a job would take it and the other would move with them.
Still not satisfied with the education he had received and yearning for more, Watson began the Basic Law Enforcement Training program at Wilkes Community College. In 1996, while he was enrolled in BLET, Celena was offered a job with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, where she now has worked 13 years as a public health educator and supervisor.
Up until that point, I thought I had a career path chosen, but that changed things. But they changed for the best, Watson said.
When he finished the BLET program in December 1996, he was hired as a deputy for the Surry County Sheriffs Office under the leadership of Sheriff Connie Watson a month later.
He gave me an opportunity to get started in this profession, and I really appreciate the opportunity, said Watson, explaining that just six months later an opening became available at the Mount Airy Police Department. He applied and had a job interview set up, but decided it wasnt the right time to leave the sheriffs office.
I had a college friend who worked for MAPD. Through working with the sheriffs office, I got to know some of the officers here and they were a bunch of professional, well-respected individuals, he said. The first time they called for an interview, I didnt go, because I felt I owed the sheriffs office more for taking a chance on me.
Time went by, and yet again, another opening surfaced at the police department. This time, Watson was ready for the move. He contacted the department and got another opportunity to interview.
In August 1997, he was hired as an MAPD patrol officer.
It was probably one of the most proudest days of my life, Watson said, thinking back to that time. Honestly, from early on with the police department, I always wanted to be chief of police. It was a goal of mine to be able to serve the community in this capacity.
I was fortunate enough to work my way up the ranks.
Five years ago, Watson returned to school to pursue his masters degree in criminal justice, so he could teach in an area with which he was familiar. My philosophy is professionalism through education, and you set yourself up so when an opportunity arises you can seize the moment, he said.
All the ones who served before me, they took time to work with me and build my skills in leadership and knowledge for decision-making, Watson said, noting key people who influenced him former chiefs Ronald Hill and Roger McCreary, Maj. Jeff Wolfe, Capt. Larry Hiatt and Maj. Gray Shelton.
Honestly, every supervisor I ever had has made an impact on me, and I wouldnt be where I am without those I served with and for, he said.
Watson said he wishes that new officers coming in have influential people like he did to look up to as they learn the ropes. I hope I can be those guys one day. They made an impact and left a legacy behind.
On May 17, 1997, Dale and Celena were married. Their first child, Calissa, was born June 18, 2004, and their second child, Troy, was born Sept. 22, 2006.
Shes always been a strong influence and helped keep me on a path, Watson said of his wife. Shes always a supportive individual, and she understands the demand of the job and the limitations the job sets forth as well.
Were in an area were proud to be part of, and were both fulfilling jobs in the community that make a difference. Were blessed to have the opportunities weve had and fulfill those and hope to continue that in the future.
When Watson isnt at work, hes active in his church, Piney Grove Baptist, and enjoys riding his motorcycle.
He recognizes that the community is struggling, and hopes his and his wifes work will make a difference for someone.
Shes active in the county school district at White Plains, and I help in the city at Tharrington right now. We see theres a need and a lot of folks need help in different ways. This is a calling. Weve been blessed, and we try to help any way we can, Watson said. It is a hard time in the community, and weve got to pull together all our resources to meet the needs. In both our jobs, we see the needs.
In addition to serving as police chief, Watson continues to teach online curriculum courses for the criminal justice program at Surry Community College as well as radar and subject control through SCCs BLET program and in-service at the Mount Airy Police Department.
As far as his job as chief, which started Oct. 1, Watson said, Its a dream come true to have the opportunity to serve the city in this capacity. We have a great staff at the city, and at the police department, they are a tremendous bunch of men and women dedicated to their community, and the community should be proud to have such a dedicated group serving both the city and county.
I hope to have a long tenure. I cant see myself with any other agency.
Contact Wendy Byerly Wood at [email protected] or 719-1923.