New Cary Police Chief Tony Godwin credits his childhood experience working on a dairy farm — milking cows, wrestling calves and growing hay — as one of the reasons behind his success today.
“The biggest mistake God made was he didn’t put an on/off switch on cows,” Godwin said, quoting the farm’s owner, Harold Green. “His point was there was never a break.”
Godwin, 48, was named the new chief Monday. He said he will use the lessons he learned as a child to continue the legacy of former Police Chief Pat Bazemore, who retired July 31 after 29 years with the department.
Godwin has been with the Cary Police Department since 1990, when he joined as a patrol officer. He has been Cary’s deputy chief since 2014 and was interim chief in the brief time between Bazemore’s retirement and the announcement of his promotion. He was selected from more than 75 applicants from as far away as Oregon and Nevada, according to the town.
But long before he became a police officer, he worked on a farm in Lizard Lick every day. Starting at the age of 9, Godwin worked on a farm, milking the cows twice a day, regardless of the weather, holidays or illnesses. Not only was he responsible for helping milk about 80 cows, but he also was in charge of feeding them and the calves for no more than $3 per hour.
“I certainly didn’t do it for the money,” Godwin said. “I did it because it was fun. What 9- or 10-year-old boy doesn’t want to drive a great, big tractor?”
But farm life wasn’t always fun and games, even when Godwin was wrestling calves. In order to dehorn the calves, which he said was necessary so they wouldn’t hurt each other, the calves would have to be held down so their recently erupted horns, or “buttons,” could be removed.
“We weren’t doing it for entertainment,” he said. “We were doing it to get a job done.”
‘The dairy farmer side’
Godwin was born in Raleigh and later raised in Lizard Lick.
He left the farm when he was 18 years old to pursue an education at N.C. State University, where he planned to study English and go to law school. But as time went on, his mind changed until he found himself following in the footsteps of his father, Lindsay Godwin, a 12-year officer with the Raleigh Police Department.
“I was so young when he got off the force so I only remember him coming home and his police car,” he said. “But there was probably subconsciously a big part of that that kind of guided who I was and what I grew up to be.”
Godwin said all of the hard work on the farm taught him some valuable lessons, particularly responsibility and a strong work ethic, that he continues to put to use.
“I think growing up in that environment helped me to learn work ethic, because you’ve always got to go,” he said. “Fast forward to working at the Cary Police Department for 25 years, I think maybe in 25 years I’ve taken four days in sick leave.”
Godwin has worked for Cary’s Police Department in numerous other capacities, including leadership positions on Cary’s Emergency Response Team, Field Operations and Criminal Investigations Division.
“I have touched just about everything in the department,” he said. “But the job that I’ve loved the most is just being a patrol sergeant and just being out there working every day on the road. Patrol is the backbone of any law enforcement.”
Cary Police Maj. Tracy Jernigan said during the years he’s worked with the new chief, Godwin’s experiences on the dairy farm often have come up in conversation.
“We often get sometimes the dairy farmer side of the story,” he said. “He just talks about the things he had to do as a kid.”
Cary’s new police chief
In his new position, Godwin will earn $139,000 annually, overseeing a department of 238 people, including 195 sworn officers.
Cary, known as one of the safest town’s in the country, had about 14.4 crimes per 1,000 people in 2012, based on data tracked by the FBI and analyzed by Cary officials. Last year, there were just four homicides in a town of more than 152,000 people.
“I don’t have any major changes in mind, but it’s one of those things that we are always look at, how we can do things better,” he said. “One thing that absolutely won’t change is the way we deliver service to our community.”
Godwin holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from N.C. State University and a master’s degree in justice administration from Methodist University. He has two sons, 14-year-old Wyatt and 4-year-old Colton, with his wife of 17 years, Shannon, whom he met while working at the Cary Police Department.
Although he is stepping into a new role, Godwin said he still has many fond memories of starting out his career as a patrol officer.
“There’s some crazy stuff that happens, particularly on the night shift,” he said. “I remember getting a call from a mother 12, 13 years ago because she couldn’t get her son out of bed to go to school. I was a little surprised that the police department got a call.”
“But that’s the thing about police work,” he said. “When people don’t know who else to call, we’re it.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon