Derrick Doty's interest in law enforcement began when he joined the Youth Explorer program.
By BRADY DENNIS
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 24, 2000
DADE CITY -- Derrick Doty has grown used to the graveyard shift.
He has worked evenings at McDonald's, as a manager at Papa John's pizza and as a security guard.
He worked nights for a year as a dispatcher at the Dade City Police Department.
And these days, he patrols the streets as an officer for the department. From 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., of course.
But don't expect to hear him complaining.
"It's not that bad," Doty said. "You just have to sleep when you can. And if you don't remember to bring something to eat at night, you're not going to eat. Around here, nothing's open late."
Doty is the first police Youth Explorer to become an officer in Dade City.
Explorers are school-age youth who study and train in police methods. They are sponsored by police agencies and have ranks just like real officers. They sometimes accompany officers on the job and get a first-hand look at the reality of life in law enforcement.
Doty first got involved in the program as a 14-year-old freshman at Zephyrhills High School.
"I had just moved to Florida from California, and I didn't know anybody or anything around here," Doty said. "It helped me meet a lot of people."
Doty admits he never had much of an interest in a career in law enforcement. That is, until he spent time in the Explorers program.
"Doing Explorers is what made me want to do it. They show you just what an officer does on a daily basis," he said. "And it certainly keeps you straight. When you hang out with those people all the time, you're not out to do bad or anything."
Still, going from kid to cop wasn't without its challenges.
When Doty finally decided he was ready for the police academy, he had to drive to Inverness every day and take classes from 2 to 10 p.m. Of course, that was just a warm-up for his 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as a dispatcher.
And just as he successfully finished the academy, Doty was thrown another curve ball.
He was working double duty as an officer and a dispatcher when he heard across the radio one afternoon that his house had been burnt down in one of the Richland arson fires about two months ago.
He has been living with friends in town since then, hoping to find a new place shortly after Thanksgiving. But as is true with his late hours, he faces the dilemma with a shrug and a smile.
"It was hard, starting over. All I had was what was on my own back that day," he said. "But I had a lot of good friends that helped me out. If it wasn't for them, I don't know what I would have done."
Dade City Police Chief Phillip Thompson said Doty is a perfect example of the benefits of the Explorers program.
"The program is a great recruiting tool for us," Thompson said. "We're very happy for Derrick, being the first Explorer to become an officer (for us). We certainly think he'll do a great job for us.
"Hopefully, it will send a message to young people in our community."
For now, Doty is content finally to be a certified officer, listening to his 10-year-old sister brag to anyone who will listen that her brother is a police officer.
He is in the middle of a 15-week training program, where another officer accompanies him on his patrols. Soon enough, however, he will be by himself, cruising the moonlit streets of Dade City. He can't wait.
"I'm going to be nervous and excited, everything all in one," he said. "But I'm looking forward to it."
Even if it is the graveyard shift.
"It's a lot of fun. It's never the same thing twice," Doty said. "I couldn't imagine sitting in an office all day. I don't know what I'd do."