By Ashleigh S. Wilkerson, November 6, 2018
There are various gadgets, like the microphone by the visor, the built in camera that sees outside of the vehicle, the walkie talkie that gives and receives instant feedback, the switch that creates an illumination blocks away, and the laptop right between the driver and passenger seats used to file reports, check plates, and records.
The sun settled down some time ago and a slight breeze passes by as Officer Darrell Terry Jr. prepares to patrol the town of South Orange. Prior to getting in the car, he’s suited up with the everyday accessories of an officer and a hat to match. He said he does use profanity from time to time however; he will do his best not to for this encounter. Almost as soon as he closes the door in preparation to pull off at 8:03 p.m., he turns on the air and mentions how he easily gets hot. His radio set to station Power 105.1, is turned down low and before any movement fully takes place, he points to the seat belt.
Next, he does a sample call in via laptop on a license plate. In a little over a minute, he discovers everything from the make, model, owner’s name, age, address, prior parking tickets, to an accident in 2015. He also verbally calls it in and instantaneously receives the same information.
During the two-hour ride that ends exactly at 10:03 p.m., Terry Jr., who has been a police officer with the South Orange Police Department since 2015, covers grounds on what he calls the four zones (one, two, center, and west) of South Orange, the importance of safety within the community, his love for family and friends, and his reason for loving his career.
He makes stops passing the home in which he grew up, homes of friends, his current home, a favorite pizza parlor, former co-workers that happened to be walking down the street, a possible station he would sit and patrol, and back to headquarters where he writes a report requested by a middle-school friend.
Officer Terry stated that he is originally from East Orange, NJ and at the age of 12, he moved to South Orange. He graduated from Columbia High School in 2006 and Penn State University in 2010, where he majored in Health Policy Administration. After obtaining his degree, he worked in the field for a few years. He wasn’t fond of the required meetings or having to sit behind a computer screen for excessive hours, so it was time to move on. He says that he enjoyed being upbeat and constantly moving around.
“I like to talk to people,” Terry said. “I really enjoy being of assistance, even if it’s holding the door. It’s a great feeling to help someone, and know that I made them feel good. There are a lot of things that we do to protect ourselves and our image. I take pride in my image and the way in which I carry myself.”
He says he realizes that officers receive lots of criticisms and he wants to help in changing the negative narrative in giving the community his best efforts at all times.
The night’s moving rather slowly. It’s the night after Halloween, when there were various incidents of misconduct. As Terry rode throughout the blocks, he said this was a good thing.
“Every day is different it’s either slow or crazy,” Terry said.
While most children dressed up in attempt to receive candy from houses, Terry says some individuals had different plans for the evening. There were various calls and cries for help. One case included the trampling of a young girl as masked individuals in a rush to flee the scene harmed her in the process.
Prior to the ride-along while still at the station, Sgt. Adrian Acevedo said Halloween night was busy. “In a span of three and a half hours, there were two assaults, one robbery, and multiple occurrences of criminal mischief such as cars being broken into,” Acevedo said. “It was like The Purge, there were 100’s of kids running around fighting.”
Terry gets a little cold and settles for lowering the windows instead of the air conditioner. He continues talking about more nights that were difficult. One story, he recalls a young girl that was jumped by not only a group of girls, but a mother of one of the girls as well. After the occurrence, the car fled the scene.
“We respond to medical calls,” Terry said. “We have to document everything, even something such as a finger cut.”
When asked what advice would he give to someone that aspires to be an officer, Terry says that he’s always a cop even when he’s off. His shifts, which begin at 7 p.m., are 12 hours long. If someone chooses to call out and he’s on shift, he has no choice but to stay. Holidays are often missed, and events get cut short.
“I have a cousin who wants to be an officer, he’s like 25 or 26,” Terry said. “I say no matter what, try to eliminate yourself from silly situations. The wrong place at the wrong time is true to the core. Stay fit, stay sharp, everything you do leading to that moment counts.”
As he continues what resembled a tour of the city, he goes in and out making mention of some of the most prominent people in town like judges, doctors, lawyers and his hero, his father.
“Family is everything to me. They are my biggest supporters and encourage me the most. I enjoy our time that we spend together; we’re so close that essentially they are my friends. I make it my duty to see to my rounds in visiting everyone (mom, dad, nieces, nephews, brother and sisters). This goes for my friends as well, whether a meet up at the bar to watch a game, the movies, I like to have fun,” said Terry. On top of that, he also has a fiancé.
He says although they work opposite shifts because she is a fourth grade teacher, she’s very understanding so it works out just fine. One of his nephews wants to be a cop just like him when he gets older. His family although nervous at first at his decision totally support and admire his work as an officer. He says through time spent with them and friends, is where he finds balance. He said because of the experiences he endures on the job it is a must to enjoy himself outside of work.
It’s pretty dark and quiet out passing the Seton Hall University fraternity houses while driving through each of the zones. On two occasions, someone ran a light. They received a free pass escaping any repercussion or tickets since he wasn’t by himself in the car. For the most part he’s always alone. He doesn’t have a partner. Still nothing, just the long streets and big houses of the community. Then, he finally receives a call. There is an incident on Valley Street regarding a physical altercation between two men. No time to head back to the station, he heads straight there. It doesn’t take long to get there. He exits the car, opens the back door behind the driver seat in search for his night stick. North Valley Bank is on the corner, Artistry is on the left hand side, he’s parked on the right.
“You have to stay in the car,” says Terry. Just far enough from the scene yet he’s still visible as two other police cars arrive. He says when they receive calls there’s always back up sent and that they work as a unit in making their way to the incident. Minutes later he returns because the two men were already gone. He begins to talk about Detective Mark Wilkins, who was one of the officers who immediately arrived. “That was detective Wilkins, he’s the one you were talking to at the station the other day,” Terry said. “We actually went to high school together. We lived together as well, he’s one of my best friends.”
He proceeded to the route for a while longer opening up more about his family, much of his daily tasks and wanting to provide safety as one of the major reasons he chooses to be a member of the force. He is fully aware of his strengths.
“I’m good at it, I’m good at making friends in order to get what I need to get done,” Terry said. “My dad remarried, so I have a 13-year-old sister and a 7-year-old brother. I want it to be as safe as possible for them.”
Typically when he wakes up, he said he gets ready. He puts on his uniform, his bullet-proof vest, and he heads out. He comes to work where he receives his assigned car, which normally doesn’t change aside from the fact that he shares it with one other officer. “I get my radio, I’m briefed on what happened throughout the day and I hit the road,” he said. “I patrol unless it’s busy, and if that’s the case we all go. We all help each other out.
He rode around for a bit longer until deciding to make his way back for dinner. He says if he has time, he said he normally stops home, eats, and returns.
“Preparation plus opportunity equals success My father who is also my idol, told me that at a young age. That quote stuck with me my entire life,” said Terry Jr.