Deputy Chief Eric Copeland, 51, always knew he wanted to be in public safety, even at a young age.
He worked at a local rescue squad, worked as a security officer at WakeMed and as a dispatcher. But being a patrol officer is where he fell in love with a career.
“I have always subscribed to a life of service,” Copeland said.” My parents have always instilled in me to helping others. It’s always been about helping others. And this is the avenue I chose to continue that service.”
Copeland was hired at the Garner Police Department in January 1991. And now, 25 years later, he will retire.
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Nicknamed the “Coupon King” at work because of his infinity to always find a bargain, Copeland said it’s time to move on.
The Garner police department will not hire another deputy chief. They have instead promoted lieutenants from within and changed their titles to captains.
Copeland said when he joined the Garner Police Department, he noticed it was a department that focused on community policing.
“I remember my field training officer, Mike Brown, talking about the importance of watching out for the community and it’s more (than) just giving tickets and arresting people. It’s about making changes in people’s lives. Even though we’ve preached it over the years, we’ve always done things in that manner.”
He said because of that, the department has a great relationship with its community. It’s something he’s always valued.
“Knock on wood should we ever have an event like Ferguson, I think our community would be much more supportive of our department than what they have (been) in Ferguson and Baltimore,” Copeland said. “That goes to not only the leadership but the training in this department.”
Copeland grew up in a small town in Gates County.
Before joining the Garner Police Department, he worked at the public safety department part-time at his alma-mater, N.C. State.
He also worked as a full-time dispatcher while taking a year off from college.
Copeland said one of his biggest impacts was working as a school resource officer. He was the first school resource officer in Garner when they began to insert municipal police officers in high schools.
Copeland said he was able to establish relationships with the students in school and their families, so later on when he saw them on the streets, he was able to better diffuse situations with the people who knew and respected him.
Copeland moved up the ranks pretty quickly. He started as a patrol officer in 1991 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1995. After that he was promoted to Major in 2001. That position was reclassified in 2006 an the title was changed to deputy chief. He has served in that positions ever since.
He said, while Garner has had few, the hardest times on the jobs were witnessing murder scenes.
“Some of the things that I have seen in my career are things that no human being should see,” Copeland said. “Dealing with that and the effects that those things have on families and the children is probably the toughest thing for any police officer in this career. The taking of a life is a senseless act.”
He said in those times he would rely on his faith and pray that he and his officers would get the evidence to put those guilty of the crime in prison to pay for their crimes.
‘The house DC built’
During the grand opening of the new police station, the department recognized Copeland for his contributions to the $2.4 million building.
And even though he only got to spend a few weeks in the building, he was largely responsible for getting things together, helping with the design and finding the right furniture for the building.
Police Chief Brandon Zuidema, dubbed the new station, “The house DC built,” and Copeland received a plaque.
“Deputy Chief Copeland has been an integral part of the Town of Garner, the Police Department, and our Police Department family for more than 25 years,” Zuidema said in an email. “He is an outstanding leader and police professional who has had a positive influence on an entire generation of police officers. DC will be sorely missed but has more than earned his opportunity to enjoy his life and family after a career of dedicated service.”
Copeland said the hardest part about retiring will be the people.
“There’s not a day that I have not gotten out of bed and didn’t want to come to work,” Copeland said. “When you couple that with working with people that you care (abouot) and you love, it makes it that much harder. I spend more time with the people here than I do my family.”
Copeland said the philosophy he lived and worked by was something his parents instilled in him as a child.
To treat others like you would want to be treated, he said.
“Treat them fair. So I think if you follow that you can’t go wrong,” he said. “And if we preach to our guys, if you go out there and have to make a decision, as long as your decision reflects our values of commitment, integrity and professionalism, you can’t go wrong.”
Copeland’s official retirement was Monday.
But he doesn’t plan to move down south and bask in the sun.
He wants to stay in law enforcement and get back to the place he started. As a patrol officer, on the streets, making a difference in people’s lives.