Dade City Police Chief James Walters has reached quite the career milestone — 25 consecutive years with the only law enforcement agency he knows.
Walters joined the Dade City Police Department in 1995 as a beat cop, fresh out of Saint Leo University.
Since then, he has worked his way through the ranks as a detective, sergeant and captain, among other titles.
He became acting chief in February 2018, when then Chief Ray Velboom retired. And, he became the department’s top cop that August, a role he still performs.
On the whole, Walters said, the last quarter-century has “gone by in a flash.”
“It felt like just yesterday I was walking into the doors of the old Dade City Police Department building,” Walters said during a recent phone interview with The Laker/Lutz News. “It seems like it was just yesterday I was walking in for the very first time.”
Over the past few weeks, community members and leaders have congratulated Walters on his 25 years of service — somewhat jokingly adding that they’re looking forward to seeing him in uniform for another 25 years.
While he won’t be working in 2045, he has no plans to step away anytime soon.
He said he’s humbled by the community support and appreciation.
“I’m glad this community, this city still wants me to be a part of things. As long as we are making a difference and contributing, we’re going to keep on going,” Walters said.
The police chief was formally recognized during a July 14 Dade City Commission virtual meeting.
It’s where Mayor Camille Hernandez summed up her appreciation to Walters: “You are truly an asset, you are a pleasure to work with, and your outreach and concern for the community and students, and the young people and families in our community is noteworthy.”
Destined for law enforcement
Walters’ pathway into law enforcement and public service began while growing up in Inverness, in Citrus County.
Walters said he discovered what he wanted to be in the summer of 1979, when he was just 8 years old.
That was when he survived an alligator attack, while swimming in a lake on his parents’ property. As he tells it, an alligator grabbed his foot and pulled him out of the water. He sustained injuries, but managed to escape.
During Walters’ three-week stay in a hospital, he was visited several times by Jamie Adams, then a wildlife officer with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
Adams, would go on to become longtime sheriff of Sumter County through the 1980s and 1990s.
The positive interactions that Walters had with Adams left an imprint on the young boy, that he would never forget.
“He said he was going to go get that gator, and that made me pretty happy,” Walters recalled, “so back then, it left an impression on a scared kid, and I never really wanted to do anything else in my life.”
Dade City love
Walters moved to Dade City roughly 30 years ago, to finish his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at the University of Saint Leo.
Before that, he had graduated from Citrus High School and played college football for a few years at a small school in Iowa — St. Ambrose University. But, as a Florida boy, “I nearly froze to death,” Walters quipped.
So, he transferred to Saint Leo. Walters quickly immersed himself into the Dade City community, coaching football and wrestling at Pasco High School. He was an assistant football coach on Perry Brown’s staff that won a state title in 1992.
After experiencing “a tremendous feeling of community,” where the Pasco High football stadium “would just be overflowing with people,” Walters had no desire to live or work anyplace else.
“I grew up in a small town. Dade City felt like home, and I really fell in love with the community,” Walters said. “It’s really small town America.”
That small town feeling, however, could change a little bit in coming years.
With Dade City poised for extensive growth that could see its population more than double in size in the next decade or so, Walters acknowledged it’s a challenge for an agency that has 23 full-time sworn and about 40 personnel total.
Preliminary plans call for more homes to be built than currently exist within city limits, Walters noted.
Growing the department in proportion to the number of rooftops will be “a metered approach” in coordination with city leaders, the police chief said.
“We’re not going to accomplish anything overnight,” Walters, “but, we’re going to try to grow as the city grows, so we can maintain the levels of service that the citizens and the visitors of this community come to expect,” he said.
Published July 29, 2020