ELKTON — Jeff Mackenzie knew there would be a final call ceremony for him Friday morning to mark his retirement from the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office.
But Mackenzie did not realize that the official end of his 44-year career in law enforcement would command such pageantry and reportedly one of the largest turnouts ever witnessed for such a CCSO sendoff.
“I was pleasantly shocked,” said 64-year-old Mackenzie, who had moist eyes during the ceremony, as did his wife, Melissa. “They really went all out.”
With bagpipe music playing, Mackenzie and Melissa stepped out the front door of the CCSO headquarters, side by side, and they saw deputies, officers and at least one police chief with several law enforcement agencies in Cecil County and Delaware standing at attention in four long lines.
Behind those rows of officers clad in their uniforms stood a few dozen civilian CCSO and Cecil County Detention Center employees, along with retired and former deputies and officers who had worked with Mackenzie at different times during the past four decades.
Holding hands and fighting back tears, Mackenzie and his wife made their way down the corridor created by the rows of deputies and officers flanking them. As they did, the deputies and officers saluted.
At the end of that pathway stood Sheriff Scott Adams, who greeted the couple. Adams handed Mackenzie his retired badge and a small piece of paper. The sheriff then leaned in, whispering a few words to Mackenzie, before shaking his hand.
“I told him I was very proud that my name is on the retirement card for you,” Adams later told the Cecil Whig, explaining that Mackenzie had earned his great respect during the 25 years they had served together with the CCSO. “He was my boss at one point in my career and then I was his boss. Both ways, we always had a very good working relationship.”
That exchange between Mackenzie and Adams took place a few feet away from two New Castle County (Del.) Police Department mounted patrol officers atop Clydesdales.
Lauren Mackenzie, 37, joined her parents after that exchange, standing beside them as her father placed a police radio close to his mouth and uttered his last “10-42,” a code that law enforcement officers give at the end of their shifts to let dispatchers know they are no longer on patrol.
As the dispatcher’s voice sounded over the radio in response, Melissa wept. Mackenzie and Lauren also appeared to be moved while the dispatcher reviewed Mackenzie’s four decades of service and gave a final farewell.
“Today marks the final 10-42 for Sgt. Jeff Mackenzie after a 44-year career in law enforcement,” the dispatcher began.
Moments later, Mackenzie, clearly at a loss for words amid the spectacle, expressed his gratitude and then referenced the late Jerry Garcia and the words contained in one of his Grateful Dead songs, as he briefly addressed all those in attendance.
“What a long, strange trip it’s been,” said Mackenzie, before greeting each person in attendance.
Decades of service
Mackenzie knew he wanted to be a police officer when he was about 10 or 11 years old, ever since a guest speaker visited his Kenmore Elementary School classroom sometime in 1965 or 1966.
“It was Career Day, and a state trooper came in and talked to us about his job. I was in awe of him and I was very impressed with what he had to say,” Mackenzie said, recalling that it was then he grasped the importance of a police officer’s role — helping people and maintaining law and order.
After graduating from Elkton High School in 1972, Mackenzie joined the Maryland Army National Guard, serving six years.
Mackenzie joined the “thin blue line” in 1974, when he started as an officer with what is now the University of Delaware Police Department, serving with that agency for two years, the dispatcher intoned during the final call ceremony. The late-Richard M. Nixon was President of the United States when Mackenzie started his law enforcement career.
In 1976, after graduating with the 6th Recruit Class of the New Castle County Police Department training academy, Mackenzie joined the Elkton Police Department, serving there as a patrol officer for seven and a half years.
It was during his EPD days that Mackenzie formed a friendship with Bernie Chiominto, who was among those in attendance Friday for Mackenzie’s final call ceremony.
A retired CCSO officer who now works part-time with that agency conducting background checks on deputy applicants, Chiominto served on the EPD force with Mackenzie. For a couple of years, Chiominto and Mackenzie shared an apartment above what was then the town police department’s station at the corner of North and High streets.
“I worked with Jeff ever since the early ‘80s. I have a lot of respect for Jeff. I am proud to have served with him, and it is an honor to be here today for his retirement ceremony,” Chiominto told the Cecil Whig. “Jeff was the one who inspired me to come to the sheriff’s office after he went there.”
Mackenzie joined the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office in 1981, when he was hired by the late-Sheriff John F. “Jack” DeWitt.
Back then, the CCSO headquarters and county jail occupied a cramped, repurposed 19th Century brick building, before the agency moved its administrative offices and inmates to the brand new Cecil County Detention Center in January 1984.
While the county jail remains at that site, CCSO’s headquarters, which would again be deemed outdated some 20 years later, relocated to a state-of-the-art building on Chesapeake Boulevard near Elkton in 2005.
When Mackenzie started with CCSO, he was one of approximately 12 deputies that typically split the county in half while working two-man patrol shifts. CCSO now has 95 sworn officers.
Advances in radio communication is one of the biggest changes Mackenzie witnessed during his career.
“Communication was almost non-existent. Pretty much, when you got out of your car, you were on your own,” Mackenzie said, explaining that the police radios were mounted inside patrol vehicles. “Communication is so much better now.”
Another major change has occurred within the criminal element, according to Mackenzie, who commented, “Criminals are much more aggressive and much more violent now.”
Several deputies who attended Friday’s ceremony reported that Mackenzie, who retired at the rank of first sergeant, possessed a wealth of law enforcement experience and knowledge that he could share.
“He’s been a police officer longer than the vast majority of our deputies have been alive. He was doing the job before they were even born,” said Lt. Michael Holmes, a CCSO spokesman.
The final call
CCSO Maj. George Stanko, the agency’s director of law enforcement, was not surprised that Mackenzie appeared teary-eyed during the final call ceremony.
“He’s been in uniform ever since he was 18, so it’s a big deal for him,” Stanko said.
Mackenzie’s wife acknowledged, “Obviously, it was emotional. It would be emotional for anybody who has dedicated his life to police work the way that Jeff has.”
Now retired, Mackenzie plans to relax for a while and then get a part-time job. Melissa will continue to work as town administrator for the town of North East.
At the end of the radioed response to Mackenzie’s final 10-42 Friday, the dispatcher said, “Sgt. Mackenzie, we all wish you a long and happy retirement and thank you for your service. The people of Cecil County owe you and your family a debt of gratitude for a lifetime of service. Always be safe, Sarge, and Godspeed.”