He helped catch criminals, solve crimes for 50 years

Det. Roger Cockerill — who was instrumental in some of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office’s  largest investigations — has retired from a law enforcement career that spanned a half-century.

In Pasco, his work included investigations involving illegal drug trafficking, casino style gambling, prostitution and human trafficking.

But his career in law enforcement began in February 1967 at the Suffolk County Police Department, in Long Island, New York.

Pasco Sheriff’s Office Det. Roger Cockerill’s lengthy law enforcement career was celebrated at a special retirement ceremony at Grace Family Church’s Land O’ Lakes campus. Cockerill spent a combined 50 years in law enforcement between the Suffolk County Police Dept. in New York and the Pasco Sheriff’s Office. (Courtesy of Pasco Sheriff’s Office)

He officially called it quits last month, and was honored during a special retirement ceremony at the law enforcement agency’s quarterly swearing-in ceremony in December at Grace Family Church’s Land O’ Lakes campus.

More than 40 friends and family members gathered, along with dozens of other law enforcement officials — representing his native New York, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office and other Tampa Bay agencies.

Now 75, Cockerill spent the first 20 years of his policing career in Suffolk County.

After graduating from the police academy, he started as a patrolman and worked his way up to the rank of detective in the Third Precinct in Bayshore, Long Island. He retired from that role in 1987.

Shortly after, Cockerill moved his family to Pasco County, where he joined the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and continued his calling in law enforcement — for another 30-plus years.

He began working for the local agency on April 24, 1989, as a patrol deputy. Most recently, he worked as a detective in vice and narcotics.

He was involved in undercover operations, and served as the subject matter expert in cases involving surreptitious video and audio recordings for evidentiary and undercover officer safety.

He was involved in digital surveillance techniques to assist the agency’s Major Crimes Unit with solicitation to commit homicide investigations, as well as threats to public officials.

He also worked extensively with the agency’s federal partners by assisting task forces with undercover and digital investigations.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco characterized Cockerill as a good detective and an overall great person, during the special ceremony.

“Roger’s definitely one of our gems,” Nocco said, describing the longtime detective as “a man amongst men.”

The sheriff said whenever he saw Cockerill at a crime scene, he made it a point to walk up and talk to him.

“You just want to be around him,” Nocco said.

Cockerill remained calm in high-stress situations, Nocco said, explaining, “he’s seen it, been there, and done that.”

Nocco also praised Cockerill’s fitness.

The 6-foot-6 detective frequently passed the agency’s physical assessment test (PAT), with 3 minutes or 3 minutes or more to spare, Nocco said.

“When somebody would say, ‘I can’t believe we’ve got to do that PAT test,’ I’m like, ‘Look at Roger, he’s out there kicking all your butts.’,” the sheriff said.

Nocco said Cockerill’s achievement is unique.

“I don’t think in any of our lives again, we’re going to meet or see another individual that met this accomplishment — 50 years in law enforcement. There are many things in life that repeat itself, I don’t think this will ever.”

Besides honoring the law enforcement officer for his service, speakers also poked some fun at the detective.

Known for his love of animals — even squirrels and raccoons — Nocco teasingly referred to Cockerill as “Noah.”

But that wasn’t his only nickname.

He was also known as “Big Bird,” which stuck from his days in Suffolk County.

Retired Suffolk County Police Department officer Al DeMeo explained how that came to be.

It was sometime after Easter in the early 1970s, and DeMeo and Cockerill were both working in the warrant unit, in the basement of the Third Precinct, DeMeo recalled.

Notified that a fresh warrant had come in, Cockerill arrived at the the office somewhat disheveled, hair still wet from a shower and comb in his teeth, DeMeo said.

What caught everyone’s attention though, was the way that Cockerill was dressed, DeMeo said.

He was wearing all yellow — from his pants and sport jacket, to his dress shirt and tie.

“I said, ‘You look just like Big Bird,’” DeMeo said, referring to the famed Sesame Street character.

“Well, it’s 50 years later, and Roger’s still affectionately known as Big Bird — and always will be.”

Pasco Sheriff Cpt. Bill Davis also shared fond memories of working 12 years alongside Cockerill in the agency’s Narcotics Unit.

Both being from the same area of southeast New York, they clicked right away, Davis said.

“I never had so much fun going to the job (with Cockerill). I looked forward going to the job,” Davis said. He also noted that Cockerill kept a Sesame Street Big Bird toy figure in his patrol car.

He also said Cockerill was particular about his coffee — it had to be “light and sweet” — and that with the detective, “nothing started until we had coffee.”

When Cockerill was summoned to speak at the ceremony, he received a standing ovation and was serenaded with bagpipes.

In true “old school” fashion, Cockerill kept his comments brief, mainly showing his appreciation to his bosses and co-workers.

“I love the job. I love everybody,” Cockerill said.

He did shed some light, though, on what it takes to maintain a lengthy career in law enforcement.

“You’ve just got to keep going, work hard, be honest, treat everybody equally,” he said.

He also added: “If someone gets up in your face and is nasty, best thing to do is to turn around and walk away. That’ll annoy ‘em more than fighting with ‘em.”

He also offered some advice to the group of freshly sworn-in Pasco Sheriff’s deputies:

“When you snap that pistola on, you’re not going to work — you’re going to the job. Remember that. And, stick together. Always stick together.”

Cockerill may be retired now, but he won’t be venturing too far from the sheriff’s office.

He plans to join the agency as a volunteer.

Pasco Sheriff’s Office Det. Roger Cockerill’s 50 years in law enforcement:

  • Began service with Suffolk County Police Dept. (NY): Feb. 6, 1967; Patrolman
  • Retired from Suffolk County Police Dept. (NY): Feb. 23, 1987; Detective
  • Began Service with Pasco Sheriff’s Office: April 24, 1989; Patrol Deputy
  • Retired from Pasco Sheriff’s Office: December, 2019; Detective

Published January 01, 2020

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