NORTH EAST — North East Police Department Chief Darrell Hamilton walked out of that agency’s station on Cecil Avenue at 4 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon and was met by Lt. James Just, who handed him a police radio after giving a salute.
Hamilton, in turn, placed the radio near his mouth and uttered “10-42,” a code that law enforcement officers give at the end of their shifts to let dispatchers know that they are no longer on patrol, no longer in service.
For Hamilton, this was his last shift, his last 10-42.
Seconds later, a dispatcher’s voice responded the following over the speaker:
“Attention all units. It is a great honor that we acknowledge the retirement of Chief Hamilton from the North East Police Department. Darrell Hamilton has proudly served the Town of North East for 43 years. Forty-two of those years he has served in the capacity of police chief. This is an amazing achievement. He is the undisputed longest-serving police chief in the history of Maryland. Thank you for your remarkable service.”
Then the dispatcher ended her communication with, “Wishing you good health and a well-deserved retirement . . . You are officially 10-42 at 1600 hours.”
Then Hamilton continued his walk away from the NEPD station. He was flanked on both sides by receiving lines of leaders and representatives of all police agencies in Cecil County, as well as members of the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services. Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer also stood in one of those receiving lines.
As he made his way, Hamilton stopped to shake hands and, or, hug every single person in those lines, receiving well-wishes during each interaction. Hamilton also returned several salutes. (When Hamilton had exited the station moments earlier, the people in those receiving lines stood at attention and held a salute.)
Then there was a round of applause.
After clearing those receiving lines, Hamilton moved through a parking lot filled with scores of other police officers, citizens and members of the North East Board of Commissioners, including Mayor Bob McKnight, who had worked closely with the chief during McKnight’s 27 years in that position.
The embraces and handshakes continued, as Hamilton purposefully approached each and every person who had turned out to witness his last-call ceremony and to send him off in grand fashion.
This clearly was an outpouring of love and respect for Hamilton, who, at the mere age of 25, was appointed NEPD chief in March 1978, after working approximately one year as a patrol officer. (Hamilton had served five years as a law enforcement specialist in the U.S. Air Force, from which he earned his honorable discharge in the mid-1970s.)
Hamilton is widely credited with playing an important role in helping municipal officials turn North East into the tourist town that it is today, a place known for its quality restaurants, gift shops and other attractions.
Adopting a “community policing” approach, long before that term became popular in law enforcement, Hamilton realized that keeping crime down – proactively and reactively – in part through frequent interactions with citizens would be the most effective way to make North East a desirable place for homeowners, renters, merchants and visitors.
Finally, at the end of Tuesday’s last-call ceremony, Hamilton approached an even more personal receiving line at the edge of the western side of the parking lot. This line was comprised of Hamilton’s wife, Connie; their two children; John, 42, of North East and Ashly Acevedo, 32, of North East; and his mother, Gladys Hamilton, 83, of Elkton.
Parade of well-wishers
The last-call ceremony was the last of two observances of Hamilton’s retirement on Tuesday.
That morning, in an event planned by the North East Chamber of Commerce, a parade of approximately 25 vehicles, mostly belonging to citizens, some representing public safety agencies, rolled past the NEPD station.
Hamilton stood outside, close to Cecil Avenue, and waved as the stream of vehicles, many decorated with balloons and signs bearing well-wishes messages, streamed by him. He also shouted, “Thank you” and other responses of appreciation after people in those vehicles encouraged him to enjoy is well-earned retirement.
Some of his family members rode in the lead car.
For the occasion, his son, John, wore a Santa Claus costume as a tribute to Hamilton, who served as St. Nick in a volunteer capacity for several years during Christmastime functions in downtown North East.
John served 21 years in the military, before retiring with an honorable discharge, and the experience gave him a better perspective of his father as a professional.
“My dad always made himself available to us, don’t get me wrong. But when I was a younger, I didn’t understand why the town got so much of his time,” John said, adding. “After I joined the service, I realized that I was part of something bigger than me. It was the same for my dad. He was part of a team, part of a community, and he was serving that community in a leadership role. He worked very hard and he took it very seriously.”
Hamilton’s wife, Connie, commented, “I am excited for him.” She noted, “This is going to be first time that we’ve been together 24/7,” and then joked, “Wine may become my very best friend.”
His daughter, Ashly, who is an integrated arts teacher at North East Elementary School, told the Cecil Whig, “His retirement is well-deserved, and I am so happy for him.”
Hamilton’s mother, Gladys, commented, “It’s wonderful. He’s getting to retire, and I get to see it.”
One of the NEPD members who helped coordinate the parade logistically, Cpl. Annette Goodyear, a 13-year veteran, did not hesitate when asked to comment on Hamilton. “He’s just the greatest man in the world.”
Brian DeMaris was one of the participants in Tuesday morning’s parade. He drove a decorated 1855 Oliver tractor, which is 48 years old.
“This is a classic tractor to honor a classic chief,” DeMaris commented.
DeMaris is the president of the North East Club and the Salute to Cecil County Veterans organization, which is how he met Hamilton many years ago.
In addition to the SCCV, Hamilton served tirelessly in several capacities for many years on numerous civic and professional organizations, including Cecil County Special Olympics, the North East Boys & Girls Club, the YES program, the Domestic Violence Committee, the Neighborhood Youth Program, Homeland Security, the chiefs of police committee and Coffee with as Cop.
‘Let’s go home’
Hamilton, 67, retired reluctantly, after dealing with recent health issues.
“I love this job. I love this department. And I love this town,” Hamilton told the Cecil Whig last week, before explaining, “I’ve been having more bad days than good days.”
As the last-call ceremony neared its end on Tuesday afternoon, Hamilton reached his lined-up family members – the last ones who would thank him for his service and wish him a happy, well-earned retirement.
He embraced each one of them. Ashly was crying as her dad moved down the row, after hugging her.
Finally, he reached his wife, with whom he hopes to find some good bargains during his retirement. “We are yard sale junkies,” he joked during last week’s Whig interview.
Before hugging her, Hamilton said, “It’s just you and me now, sweetie.”
After they embraced, Hamilton told her, “Let’s go home.”
Then they got into their car and, as Connie drove away, Hamilton waved out the front passenger’s seat window and the crowd cheered.