SALISBURY — Fresh out of the Air Force, a young, enthusiastic Steve Whitley met Salisbury Police’s interim chief, Dave Fortson, at the department for an interview.
It was 1982 and the officer hired Whitley on the spot. As Whitley left, Capt. Raymond Raper handed him a revolver, a badge, 18 bullets in a plastic baggie and a set of keys to a green patrol car Whitley described as a “Ford pickle.”
“Don’t shoot yourself,”?Raper told him.
On Friday, after 30 years in Salisbury, Deputy Chief Whitley turned in his badge and department-issued handgun. The firearm looks nothing like the .380 Smith & Wesson he was handed as a rookie.
“I was lucky,” Whitley said about getting a job so close to his hometown of Albemarle. “Timing’s everything.”
Whitley announced his retirement earlier this year.
Following the death of his father in the spring, the 57-year-old said he wanted to care for his mother and spend time with family.
‘You learn by doing’
Since being promoted from lieutenant to deputy chief, Whitley has handled most of the day-to-day operations at the department. He also commands the special response team and honor guard.
“With the knowledge and experience, especially in the positions that he’s been in here, I?learned a great deal from him,”?Capt. Shelia Lingle said.
Lingle served as a detective under Whitley soon after she joined the department in the early ’80s.
“He never has a problem sitting down with you and offering his advice from different experiences,” she said.
Whitley was well-known for his dress and meticulous execution on honor guard assignments during his time in Salisbury.
Lingle also said Whitley was quick to step in and help officers in the field.
“He wasn’t just sitting back behind the desk. He was involved,” Lingle said. “His phrase is, ‘I have no problem holding the dummy end of the ruler,’ ” a reference to the person who held the tape measure during crime scene measurements.
“Instead of taking a detective away from actually doing the investigation, he always did that.”
In November 2011, Whitley was one of the first on the scene of a hit-and-run following the robbery of a Catawba College student.
Wearing a gray pin-striped blazer and a black fedora, Whitley strode around the scene speaking to officers and detectives.
Three men were later caught and charged. Fast-paced situations, Whitley said, help teach young officers.
“You learn by doing. Experience does not seem to count for a lot anymore, until all heck breaks loose, then they’re looking around for the old guys,” Whitley said of young officers. “We prepare our people for the things they don’t talk about in rookie school.”
A teacher, leader
One of the things Whitley prides himself on is being approachable — a trait, he said, is necessary in law enforcement since officers tend to keep their emotions hidden.
“I keep telling my folks to push things down,”?Whitley said, “in other words, to share.”
Over the years, the 57-year-old has managed tragic crime scenes that, he said, could shake even the most experienced officers.
Treasure Feamster’s death and the Tutterows, were among several he mentioned.
Feamster, 13, was shot and killed following a birthday party at the J.C. Price American Legion Post in March 2007.
B.P. and Ruby Tutterow were brutally murdered during a home invasion at their Park Avenue residence in 1992. B.P. Tutterow was a former police officer and the couple’s daughter, Sara Potts, was a Rowan County deputy at the time.
“They had huge impacts not only on me, not only on the people who worked them, but the community,” Whitley said.
Other officers said Whitley played key roles in their careers as an educator and instructor.
Lt. Andy Efird, who oversees the professional standards division, said he has worked with Whitley since 1999.
Whitley was one of Efird’s first sergeants and his supervisor on the special response team.
“He was the kind of supervisor who always looked out for his people,” Efird said. “He always seemed to have a sound answer for every problem or issue.”
Much of that knowledge was gained as he racked up awards as a young officer in the department.
In 1985, he was awarded Salisbury’s Young Officer of the Year title. He later took home the Veteran Officer of the Year in 2001 and the Paul G. Wilson Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award in 2009.
‘What I’ll miss most’
On Dec. 20, Whitley stood in the cold at a shooting range on Long Ferry Road.
With one hand pointing at two hidden snipers — and the other holding a walkie-talkie to his face — Whitley barked commands to officers lying in wait during a series of drills.
It was his last training session with the special response team.
“This is what I’ll miss the most,”?he said, looking around with a grin. “I’ll miss my people, and I’ll miss my SWAT-ers, especially.”