- Associated Press - Sunday, November 8, 2015

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Being a cop was Capt. James Monroe’s second choice for a career. He really wanted to join the military but a skin condition, psoriasis, prevented him from enlisting.

“They wouldn’t let me sign up,” Monroe said last week. “The next best thing to serving in the military was to be a police officer.”

Monroe was drawn toward a career of service by his own personal tragedy. When he was 16, Monroe was driving too fast on a wet road. His car hydroplaned and crashed into another vehicle, killing the other driver. He was not charged but felt plenty of guilt.

“I felt like I owed society a debt and that I would repay it,” he recalled. “It sort of helped shape who I am.”

Monroe’s time of service is now officially over. Saturday concluded his 20-year career with the Danville Police Department. He spent 17 of those years in a supervisory role. He was shot at. Spat on. He saved a man’s life. Another died in his arms.

“A lot of knowledge is walking out that door,” Police Chief Tony Gray said. “His contributions to this police department would be hard to measure. He did a lot of things for us. He was our SWAT team supervisor. He was our lead firearms instructor. He mentored many new sergeants.

“He was good on the streets. He had good rapport with his fellow officers. He was a coach-type personality, a teacher.”

Monroe is walking away from the job at 46, with a wife, Monica, and two children, Emily, 13, and Peyton, 10, still at home. He’s taking a job selling police gear.

“I shouldn’t have to worry about getting shot at,” he said. “The only one who’s not too happy about it is Peyton. When you’re 10, it’s cool when your dad is the po po and picks you up in the squad car.”

The mathematics of the pension system calculate into Monroe’s decision to retire. He could work longer but his benefits wouldn’t increase much.

He’s not afraid to admit that the stress and horrors of the job also factored into his decision in a big way.

“There was some stress involved. I’ve got a slight case of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder),” Monroe said. “I’ve been working a boatload of overtime. I’ve become diabetic. I saw a lot of bodies working second shift. The triple homicide at the pawn shop. That girl, Zoe, who got shot at Domino’s (Zoe survived).” Monroe also mentioned the victim of a suicide who he carried, “bleeding all over me.”

“Those things get to you. They make you, I don’t want to say paranoid, but you become hyper-vigilant, always looking for that danger.”

Monroe grew up in Cynthiana and graduated from Carson Newman University in Tennessee with a degree in psychology. Determined to break into law enforcement, he took a job as a dispatcher in Florida before hiring on as an officer at Transylvania University in Lexington.

Transy sent Monroe to the police academy for training, where he became friends with a classmate by the name of Tony Gray. After two years working for the college, Monroe decided to join Gray in Danville. It was 1995.

“Me and Jim are great friends. We have been buddies since the academy,” Gray said. “We laugh and joke about that to this day.”

Of all his accomplishments as a police officer, Gray said Monroe’s strongest suit was his cool under pressure. If a crisis situation developed, Gray said he wanted Monroe in charge.

“That is Jim’s forte - critical incidents,” the chief said. “He’s a great scene commander. He’s a tactically sound officer and he’s all about our officers going home safe. When you lose someone you have that much faith and trust in, it’s big shoes to fill.”

Gray and Monroe both recalled a potentially deadly incident in 2009 when a man with mental issues and too much drink barricaded himself inside a home on Shawnee Drive. Gray had just arrived on the scene and was conferring with Monroe when the man opened fire, sending two rounds whizzing by the officers’ heads.

“I said, ‘Jim, I think we’re a little too close for this briefing,’” Gray recalled.

The man unloaded several more shots that day before Gray was able to talk him into surrendering.

Those tense situations stand out foremost in Monroe’s mind as he relives his career but there are lots of other memories he recalls fondly.

“There are a lot of happy endings. They are just not as memorable because your life wasn’t in danger,” he said.

Early in his career, there was a fire at a residence behind Lee’s Famous Recipe. Monroe was the first to arrive. “There was an elderly fellow inside and he was disoriented. We were able to get him out of there.”

He still occasionally runs into a grateful mother whose son Monroe helped overcome a serious drug addiction.

“That makes you feel good,” he said, adding that a lot of people recognize the positive things he’s done as an officer. “I can’t go into Walmart without it being a long process. Everyone stops to say hello.”

When he started out as a cop, Monroe admits he was gung-ho about the job and all the good he thought he would do.

“When you start out … you think you’re going to save the world in three shifts. But then you burn out a little. You put someone in jail and they’re out the next day. It’s a revolving door. You get a little discouraged and then you realize it’s a long war and you try to win a few individual battles.”

Monroe has been witness to a revolving door at the police department as well. He said he’s worked with 54 officers during his 20 years and only seven of those retired. The others moved on to other jobs or simply gave it up.

It is the ones who have stayed around that Monroe is going to miss.

“That’s what gives me a little bit of a tug to stay. I feel like they are my brothers and my kids and I’m abandoning them and moving away to another country. That’s the only aspect of this I’m really going to miss. It’s like a family.”

Aside from regular trips to warmer climates, Monroe said he plans to stick around Danville, volunteering with his church or other causes where he feels he might do some good.

“I love this town. Other than being a snowbird, I’ll always be around here. Danville will always be my home,” he said. “I’ve protected and looked out for this community for 20 years. Now it’s time to look out for myself and my family.”

___

Information from: The (Danville, Ky.) Advocate-Messenger, http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews

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