Laurel Deputy Police Chief Jimmy Brooks retired last month, capping a law enforcement career spanning four decades that included many posts inside the city's department.
Brooks, 52, is a Laurel resident who graduated from Laurel High School in 1980. During his 30-year police career in Laurel, Brooks has served in a variety of roles. He began as a patrol officer, and in his second year joined the SWAT team. He was then assigned to the narcotics unit for five years before moving to the K-9 unit, where he spent approximately 15 years, he said.
Brooks then became the city's official homeland security liaison before being appointed Deputy Chief in 2012. What follows is a Q&A with Brooks about his career at the Laurel Police Department.
Did you know you wanted to become a police officer when you were in high school?
I kind of had a feeling. Not one hundred percent sure at that point in time, but it was definitely something that I had an interest in.
What interested you about it?
I think like most kids, catching the bad guy. You know, the excitement of the job, kind of being a Type-A personality anyway. Those type folks are kind of drawn toward law enforcement.
When you look back, what was the role you liked the most or were most proud of?
I think the thing that I really miss is the camaraderie with different units I worked with, whether it was the SWAT team or in narcotics, working in the criminal investigative division. Those kind of relationships are what I'm going to really miss. We all have good cases, and that is what it is, but it's those relationships you really miss.
What are some of the changes you have seen in the department?
The growth, right off the bat. I think there were 25 officers when I started and now we are at 68 or 69. So the growth of the Police Department as a result of the growth of the city. Years ago Laurel (Police Department) was a bit of a stepping stone for officers to come in, get their feet wet in law enforcement, grab some training and move onto other agencies. I have seen that change drastically over the years where you can see people coming here now and wanting to stay because of the professionalism of the agency and the amount of training officers receive, the different aspects of law enforcement you can be involved with. I don't think I could've done what I did in law enforcement anywhere else.
Are there any cases that stick out to you, that you remember vividly?
There are cases that pop up. There was a homicide years ago of a cab driver in the Avondale parking lot. I was in narcotics at the time and I got to work with the criminal investigators. It turned out my partner in narcotics was involved in a case with the suspect, and we were able to develop leads and make an arrest in that case.
Working a case with Montgomery County [police] where two weapons — a sniper rifle and a sub-machine gun — were stolen from an officer's vehicle. They came out to work with us and I happened to have a search warrant for a narcotics case for the location they were looking at. We were able to recover one of the weapons there and develop leads to find the other one. So those are two that kind of stick out. But I'm sure everybody has those cases they remember over the years.
Laurel was one of the first jurisdictions to use officer body cameras. Why do you think that was the case, and how has it fared in your mind?
The ability for us to get the cameras starts with support we get from the mayor and City Council. The Chief of Police is very progressive. It was something we saw that we could utilize and make work in the city of Laurel. There wasn't any resistance within the city government for that project. ... We were able to put together some good policy and some good training along with the use of the cameras. We used the media to put that message out there, to let people know what we were doing, why were using the cameras, and I think that helped the level of acceptance with the camera systems.
I personally think they are great. Obviously they won't solve all problems with law enforcement, but it is nice to have that video of an incident where you can sit and review and understand what officers are doing. ... I think the camera program is a very successful program for the city of Laurel and other agencies in the state will be soon adopting them.
As an African-American officer, how have you seen race relations change in Laurel?
I have seen a change, a positive change, I should say, from when I first got here until now. And I hope that continues. Are there still issues that need to be addressed? Absolutely. But we are leaps and bounds forward more so than when I came on the agency. You can see the diversity of Laurel now that you really didn't see years ago. It continues to change and evolve, and I think that is one of the bigger reasons why race relations have changed. To live in the city of Laurel, you have to understand different cultures and different ethnic groups to get along well.
What advice would you give to a rookie officer?
One of the biggest things is don't take this work home. You spend so much time involved with law enforcement work. Being on units that are called out, being away from your family, doing special events. That's the number one piece of advice I'd give.