Ira Jones’ eyes light up, and he breaks into a grin when talking about the first time he ever rode in a police car.
He was working at N.C. State University giving out traffic tickets when a campus police officer offered to take him on a ride-along. Almost immediately, a call came in about an attempted suicide, and they sped to the scene.
“The blue lights flashing, the siren, the adrenaline pumping – and then we got there and there was blood all over the place,” Jones said. “But they were able to save her. And after, the officer turned to me and said, ‘You weren’t scared. Have you ever thought about becoming a police officer?’ ”
Jones hadn’t. Armed with a business degree, he was hoping to get a job with IBM. But the rush he experienced was too good to ignore.
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A quarter of a century of policing later, Jones is retiring on Nov. 20. After several years as an officer at N.C. State, he spent the bulk of his career – 21 years – in Morrisville. He has been the chief since 2004.
At 50, Jones will retire to Connecticut, where his wife, Nicole, recently got a job with a pharmaceutical company. He’s looking forward to fishing and golfing, he said.
Morrisville plans to start searching for a permanent chief in January. Capt. Felicia Sykes will serve as interim chief. She’s the one who convinced him to come to Morrisville in the first place, after they became friends during basic training.
“Although I am sad to see him leave, I am sure our friendship will continue,” she said. “I have spent almost my entire law enforcement career working with him. Chief Jones has been a great inspiration to me as well as others not only within our agency but surrounding agencies as well.”
Jones said that’s probably what he’s most proud of – that he inspired and helped mold other leaders. Four officers who served under him have gone on to become police chiefs themselves, and more could follow in the future.
In addition to Sykes, the others are David Ng at the WakeMed Police Department, Gary Britt at the Kill Devil Hills Police Department and Charles Wilson at the the North Carolina A&T campus police department.
Low crime rate
Over many of the years Jones has been chief, Morrisville’s reported violent crimes have been in the single digits, according to FBI data.
There has been one homicide since 2000, a 2014 murder-suicide. Earlier this year, police in Cary also accused four Morrisville residents of killing a fellow Panther Creek High School student in an alleged drug deal robbery.
The general lack of violent crime, gangs and other such issues has required a different approach to law enforcement than other cities.
For Jones, that meant modernizing the department to investigate electronic fraud, child pornography and other computerized crimes committed in the technologically savvy community.
He also recently instituted anti-bias training. Morrisville is one of the most diverse towns in the state, with a population of 24,000 that’s 54 percent white, 27 percent Asian, 13 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic.
“It’s something that progressive departments all around the country are doing, and I’m glad we did,” Jones said. “It helps officers realize they have biases, and learn not to act on them.”
Morrisville has been able to focus on crimes that can go overlooked elsewhere, especially cybercrimes and crimes against children.
Just last year, an investigation initiated by Morrisville and later joined by the FBI resulted in the conviction of a 38-year-old man to more than 25 years in prison for taking naked pictures of a 14-year-old girl.
And in October, as one of his last budget requests as chief, Jones asked for more funding to renovate an interview room to make it child-friendly for whenever officers have to interview young people.
Morrisville also has undertaken a number of quality-of-life efforts through the police department, such as cracking down on panhandlers.
Jones got cameras and computers for the town’s police cars, started a self-defense program for women and updated the police radio system to sync it with the fire department. He also formed ties with the Morrisville Chamber of Commerce to get the business community more involved in preventing crime.
Jones himself frequently attends neighborhood meetings in Morrisville to talk to residents about how to avoid being targeted.
“The criminal element, they tell us they know about Morrisville and they’re going to keep ‘shopping’ here,” Jones said. “That’s what they say after we get them in custody. That they’re going to keep shopping here.”
Jones and Morrisville councilman-elect Satish Garimella also led a meeting in Morrisville’s large Breckenridge neighborhood earlier this year following several teen suicides in the area. Jones and other mental health professionals spoke to residents about potential warning signs of suicide.
Mayor Mark Stohlman said he is always glad that Jones represented the town in difficult situations, whether it was talking to neighborhood groups or individuals.
“That extra-special touch you had always made people feel more comfortable, and it did not go unnoticed,” he told Jones at a recent town meeting dedicated in part to honoring the outgoing chief.
Later in the meeting, the Town Council formally voted to let Jones keep his pistol and badge after he retires, as a sign of respect for his service.
Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran