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For Bobby Martin, the reality of being named Roanoke Rapids police chief is slowly sinking in.

On Wednesday, the day before he was sworn in as chief, Martin said, “Even though I was interim for the last six and a half months it’s still surreal that now instead of interim I am the chief of police for the Roanoke Rapids Police Department. It’s very humbling and I’m honored to have been selected for this position.”

He said it’s always been important for him throughout his career to never forget where he came from. “I think that’s one of the biggest things as a leader that we all have to really realize that we all started at the bottom and we worked our way up.”

Roanoke Rapids native

Martin grew up on Simmons Street and in the South Rosemary apartments. “My mom was a single parent. It was me and my brother. My mom did what she could.”

Martin’s mother, Sue Keeter, worked at the former Enfield Apparel. “That’s the reason why I’m here now because I know what it’s like to struggle. I know what it’s like to not have a lot but I also know what it’s like to put your mind to something. You can accomplish anything.”

Martin is a Navy veteran, an electrician who worked on hydraulics, winches and cranes.

The Halifax Academy graduate gives credit to the military for helping him remain focused when his post high school plans didn’t work out as planned. “I chose to go in the military and that gave me the structure and the guidance. I needed to see that if I was going to succeed, number one, I needed structure in my life. Number two, I really needed to get a trade if I’m going to be able to survive because I told myself that I didn’t have much as a child.”

After his initial educational plans fell through he came back home and talked to his father, Bobby Martin Sr., who at the time was the Navy recruiter. “He got me signed up, put me on the right path of ‘hey, do A, B, C and D. This is the order you need to do it, this is how you do it, this is how you’ll be successful.’”

‘Give of myself’

Despite having jobs as a heating and air specialist and becoming certified in LP and natural gas, there was always an itch to be in law enforcement. “I chose to go a different route for the simple fact that it always fell back to I remember how my community was when I was younger. I remember playing outside with the kids in the neighborhood in South Rosemary at the apartments and I remember going to Lincoln Heights and playing baseball.

“I wasn’t a rich man. I couldn’t do it that way. But what I could do was I could give of myself. I could help people. The good Lord guided me in that direction.”

While working with AAA Gas in Warrenton, he applied to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Initially rejected, he received another call from the agency saying they were going to put him through basic law enforcement training.

In 1995 he went through the BLET program at Vance-Granville Community College and ended up becoming the class president. “I guess not being long out of the military, I still kind of had that work ethic. I guess it showed and I always guided my other classmates.”

He stayed with Warren County until 1997 and was a certified dog handler. 

Meeting John Young

He relocated to Northampton County and bought a home with his wife of now 21 years, Leslie.

It was while working at Odom Correctional Institution he met Jackson police Chief John Young. “I could not have met a finer man than John Young. He took me under his wings, hired me on as a part time officer. I was working there part time and I was working at Odom. I really didn’t like being inside. I liked being outside as an officer.”

He went to work with Owen Electric while continuing his part time job as a Jackson police officer.

But the love of law enforcement was still in his system and after five and a half years he got an opportunity with Roanoke Rapids. He stayed a little more than a year and a half and got a job with the Halifax County Sheriff’s Office, where stayed for more than 13 years.

He started as a patrol deputy and worked his way up the chain, becoming a lieutenant over investigations, then narcotics and then patrol.

He credits officers such as Joe Williams, Tim Hux and Chuck Pridgen, his training officer, as having “a hand in trying to keep me straight.”

Roanoke Rapids Chief Tommy Hathaway called him in 2013 to be an investigator.

He worked as an investigator for a couple of years and then applied for captain of investigations, a position he continued even when he was named interim chief after the departure of Chuck Hasty near the end of January.

‘Not giving up’

Martin said the best moment in his career was taking Young’s advice “and not giving up, not letting my certification go because I wouldn’t be sitting here now if I had let that go. Where I’m at now is probably the biggest moment in my career simply because I’ve worked a long time but I have worked every aspect of law enforcement.

“I took the initiative after being told by former Chief Hasty to educate myself. He gave me advice to get my degree.”

Leslie, he said, “has been my rock. She has been with me through everything and has always pushed me to be the best I could be. I am the person that I am because of her guidance, her love and my two awesome kids (Jordan and Hunter).”

Then there is the inspiration from people like former Sheriff Jeff Frazier and Young. “They inspire their people. That is essentially what I want to do is inspire our officers here so they can advance.”

Cases and law enforcement image

One of the cases which has stayed him is Shonda Stansbury, who has been missing since December of 2006. “It tears my mind up as to why there’s no more information than we’ve received, why nobody has reached out to us to tell us what actually happened to that young lady.

“She’s got family and children. It breaks my heart for the family and children that are left behind not knowing what happened to their sister, their mother and it weighs on my mind.”

The police department continues to work that and other cold cases. “We have assigned all our cold cases to an investigator to follow up on. We felt like if we could put fresh eyes on it then they could see an angle that somebody else didn’t and may be able to put a fresh spin on it and try to make progress. We’ve got a pretty good investigative unit here and I’ve got the utmost faith in them.”

On the seemingly poor image of law enforcement across the country, the new chief said, “The image itself in my opinion is not that bad an image unless you talk to certain people. My philosophy on this and talking to the officers is if we can reach our youth young we can start building a relationship with them.”

Tuesday officers went to Greater Joy Church North for its summer school where children from 5 to 14 attended. “We talked about bullying, making right choices, making right decisions. I can tell you right now a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old, some can’t be reached. We’re still going to try to reach out to them, we’re not just going to say, ‘what the heck, you’re 16, 17.’ I feel like even at that age they can still be reached.”

Martin and other officers participate in an early bird basketball game at T.J. Davis. “I have met a lot of young men in the city of Roanoke Rapids. Some of them have come through the system, but it does not matter to me whether they come through the system or not. They’re human beings. We have to treat them as such. 

“I don’t look at anybody because they’ve had a bad run and they’ve gotten themselves in trouble. It was the choices that they made.”

Martin wants to try and give youth information on making right decisions. “I can understand how it is to come from a single family, single mom, single dad. I understand how you could be led in the wrong direction. It is easy to do. That’s why I chose to do the military because I had somebody have a come to Jesus meeting with me.”

It doesn’t always work, he said. “Even when they make the wrong decision I have officers that are on this department right now that they try to talk to the youth. We do get rejected, we do get cussed at, they do give us the finger but they’re going to continue to talk to them and talk to the parents.”

Parents are a big factor. “If we don’t get help from the parents then a lot of times it’s just wasted air. We will work with the parents to educate the kids because as you’ve heard they are our future. We can’t just because they’ve made some bad choices, we don’t want to toss them.”

Administrative staff is trying to come up with ideas and officers have approached him with their ideas. “I’m open for any ideas that they have. If the public wants to reach out to us about some activities they’d like to see make a phone call.”

Martin sees an energy building in the city but there are still complaints of there’s nothing to do. “That’s not necessarily true,” he said. “We’ve got things that you can do. We’ve got things that are popping up. Timothy Robinson is taking the initiative on the bowling alley. We’ve got new businesses popping up everywhere. Use your imagination and you won’t be bored. That’s why you were given an imagination.” 

Solid senior leadership

One of the big strengths of the police department is, “We take pride in the fact we do have seasoned veterans running in the lieutenant’s position. We have a pretty solid corps of leaders that are training our future officers. The strength we have right now is that we have good solid senior leadership in the lieutenant and sergeant position. We have a strong investigative corps and also a strong narcotics corps along with our new PACE team that was formed. We are a strong department. We work together well. The officers feed off each other. They complement each other.”

The department does have young officers, the chief said. “We need to make sure that they learn from our senior officers. We have to get some of our officers who are younger to get to know their community. We need to make sure we train them properly.”

Martin has already made some promotions since he was named chief Monday.

He promoted Sergeant Terrence Tyler to lieutenant over B Squad. “He’s a great officer. He’s been here for a long time. I think he’s going to be a great leader.” 

Sergeant Mike Mosely was promoted to administrative lieutenant. “I think he’s going to be a great asset to our administrative staff. He’s a very intelligent officer and he’s going to help us along those lines of training our officers.”

There are future promotions coming up, including a choice on who will fill Martin’s old job of captain of investigations.

A strong community

The community is strong in times of need, Martin said. “When somebody is down and out this community goes above and beyond to help anybody. The strength of this community is the caring here. We have got great citizens in Roanoke Rapids. We have individuals in this city that care about what happens. We have people who will refurbish a building, making it new. The strength of this community is their ability to rally in times of need. They see what needs to be done and it gets done.”

Martin admits relationships can be improved. “We are here for the community. We want the community to realize that without them it’s hard for us to do things. I think it’s gotten better but with everything that’s gone on across the nation with other departments, other incidents, I think we’ve got away from what really needs to be looked at it when someone commits a crime.”

He said, “We need to look at that person and figure as a community, as a law enforcement agency why are we here? How did that person get here? What choices in his life did he make to get where we are and why are we making this encounter?

“I think that if we come together, law enforcement and the community, we’ll be stronger. We depend on each other. I think that needs to be continued to be worked on. We need to have an open relationship with our community.

“It means getting out there and talking to the community, talking to leaders, getting out there talking with the churches, talking with the schools, talking with the kids. Get out in the community and get to know your community so they can get to know you.”

Battling drugs

The biggest issue facing the police department in crime is the battle against opioids and there will be zero tolerance for both the use and sale of narcotics. “If you’re selling drugs in the city of Roanoke Rapids you better pack your bags and move out because we’re coming. We’ll be glad to help the sheriff’s office, Weldon Police Department, Northampton County Sheriff’s Office — anybody who needs our help in the fight against the narcotics trade within our area we will be more than willing to help them out because it’s got to stop. It’s killing more people on a day to day basis than anything else right now. 

“The biggest battle we have is narcotics. We do have gangs in our area that are absorbing our young people and once they’re absorbed into the gangs that’s where we have the violence, the robberies, the drive-bys, you name it. Unfortunately, I don’t know how we got to this point or what’s led these young folks to stray but we have a bad problem with the narcotics in our area. I’ve spoken with the sheriff’s office and they’re working diligently against it as well as we are. We have our hands full with it.”

Reducing crime is going to be tough, Martin said. “We’re going to have our officers out on the street, high visibility. This is where we need from the citizens to don’t be a target. Make yourself a hard target because when you have individuals looking to commit crimes if they’re looking for a house that’s barred up, has security lights on and then look two houses down and see the dark house that has nothing, guess what house they’re going to go to?”

The police department wants to partner with the community to reduce crime in the area. “That’s going to be done through our Citizens on Patrol,” he said. “I invite any citizen that wants to take a stand against crime, drugs and anything else in our community to reach out to me and become one of our COPs because if you see something you need to say something.”