Duane McCarty started work last week as Marion’s newest police officer, but two weeks prior, his new colleagues had already prepared a welcome surprise for him.
When the 56-year-old former sheriff’s deputy stopped by the department office the first week of January, they had a makeshift nameplate waiting for him: “Old Man McCarty.”
“I’m kind of the old man here, but ‘Old Man McCarty’ was a nickname given to me by (former chief) Josh Whitwell,” McCarty said. “It just kinda stuck with me, which is OK. It’s kinda cool, it pumped me up.”
This is McCarty’s second stint with the Marion department. He worked as a part-time officer in 2003, and became full-time in 2004. He moved to the sheriff’s department in 2005.
Chief Tyler Mermis said that in addition to his experience, McCarty’s familiarity with the community is a plus.
“He’s local, he’s always lived in the area, and he knows a lot of people,” Mermis said. “He’s a people person.”
Both McCarty’s father and brother were police officers, and his mother was a sheriff’s dispatcher for 12 years, and he said the family exposure helped lead him to a career in law enforcement.
“My dad was a part-time cop in Florence,” McCarty said. “I started riding around with him and I liked it.”
He was working as a mechanic at Williams Service in Florence when Chief Duane O’Dell hired him to help cover a motorcycle race. That led to regular part-time work for the Florence department before he moved on to the Marion force.
Community policing is a welcome change from the constant and often stressful work of the sheriff’s office, McCarty said. The most difficult part of his work with the county was investigating crimes against children.
“Between 2006 and 2010, I got hammered by dozens of sexual assault cases,” McCarty said. “At one point, I think I was working four of them at once, and that takes weeks, months. I almost quit — it was mentally and emotionally hard on me. The bad thing was talking to the children. It was tough.”
McCarty said he took some satisfaction that his efforts led to convictions.
“These people that hurt children now, they go away for awhile,” McCarty said. “In terms of law enforcement, that’s something that’s really improved. The children have society on their side now.”
McCarty’s personality and concern for children is a good fit for the work he will be doing with the DRAGNET program, which teaches good decision-making to sixth-grade students.
“It’s a program invented by a retired officer and a teacher in Salina,” McCarty said. “Decision-making, responsibility, assertiveness, goals, needs, ethics, and trust. We don’t talk about drugs in DRAGNET, we talk about what’s right and wrong and let the kids decide.”
Mermis said McCarty fills an important role in that regard.
“He’s a huge complement to the department,” Mermis said. “You couldn’t ask for a better officer to be a good role model to these kids.”
McCarty won’t confine his enthusiasm for kids to the classroom.
“When I drive down the street, I want to be sure kids see me wave at them,” McCarty said. “It’s important the kids know we’re human. We’re going to be your friend, but if we see you doing something wrong, we’re going to stop and talk to you.”
Working a regular day shift makes it easier for McCarty, who plays bass guitar, to enjoy music. He plays in the worship band at Marion Christian Church. He had a band of his own, and still has informal garage jam sessions with former members.
“We’re kind of hit and miss,” McCarty said. “We lost our guitar player. None of us really care if we go out and play. It’s just fun making music.”
Although it’s been just a week since he started, McCarty said he’s happy with the change.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I plan on retiring here.”