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Derek Reece – the grip, the grin and the awesome responsibility

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

The first thing one notices when meeting First Sergeant Derek M. Reece of the Virginia State Police, is the surprisingly firm grip he gives when shaking another man’s hand. Reece, who is not an especially large fellow, is wiry and most definitely strong, something that immediately comes to mind during that first meeting of hands. The handshake is accompanied by the grin of a man who is happy with his place in the world, both in his career and in his physical location.

First Sergeant Reece, who works out of the Dublin field office, is the highest ranking member of the Virginia State Police in this area, which covers both Pulaski and Giles counties. In his duties, he oversees 15 Virginia State Police troopers and a sergeant who also works out to the field office. Mrs. Pam Kirkner, a civilian, acts as office administrator in the Dublin field office. Later this month, three new recruits will join the force bringing the Dublin field office to nearly full strength, as there are normally 19 state troopers working from there.

The current First Sergeant of the Dublin field office grew up in Snowville under the guidance of his parents Gene and Dale Reece, both longtime employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Young Derek Reece attended Pulaski County High School and the first time he ever considered being in law enforcement, was eating breakfast with his buddies at McDonalds one morning, as he explains.

“The area troopers would congregate at McDonalds every morning and seeing the blue and gray cars and the uniforms and how well those guys looked in uniforms, that’s sort of where I got the goal of becoming a trooper. But it took me a while to get there.”

After graduating in 1996, Reece became a full time firefighter at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant where he worked for a couple of years before joining the Radford Fire Department. In 2001, Reece applied to become a member of the Virginia State Police. After passing the rigorous physical and psychological testing required to become a trooper, Reece was ready for his final interview, a date he remembers well.

“My interview date in Richmond was on September 11, 2001. That really sticks out in my mind because when I got to the academy it was quiet. We were all there in suits and ties waiting on our interviews and then eventually at about 9 o’clock, a couple of troopers came down and gave us the news. Everything was so uncertain. When we broke for lunch, there was troopers everywhere at the administrative headquarters in Richmond.”

Reece was hired the following April and was immediately transferred to Pittsylvania County. He worked there for two years before being transferred to Pulaski County, where he worked as a state policeman for the next seven years. His promotion to Sergeant resulted in another transfer to Salem and then to Division Four headquarters in Wytheville. Another promotion, this time to First Sergeant, brought Reece to Vansant, where during his four-year stint, something happened that he would never forget.

“Back about two years ago, one of my troopers down in Vansant was called to a crash and when he arrived there, unbeknownst to us or him, his daughter was killed as a result of that crash. That stands out in my mind the most because it was one of the hardest situations that I’ve ever dealt with. You know, part of being a supervisor is…it’s not about you anymore. It’s about the people you’re in charge of and insuring their well-being. Not only did we have to investigate the crash but I also had to help him get through it. It was a long process and it was a sad process because she was an up and coming senior in high school, played every sport in high school. it was tough for all of us but as we always do, we overcame it.”

Last October, First Sergeant Reece again transferred back to the Dublin area field office. It seems Pulaski County has a hold on the young state police officer. “I simply like Pulaski County. It’s an excellent place to live. I think it’s one of the best there is in the New River Valley and so I’m glad to be here and glad to be back home and glad to be with friends and family again.”

Reece has developed good working relations with other law enforcement in the area.

“We’re a full service law enforcement agency, so we handle any call that comes to our attention,” said Reece. “However, we’re lucky here in this area because we have such an excellent working relationship with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. I can’t say enough good things about our sheriff and the sheriff’s office. They are excellent to work with. They’re always here every time we ask for their assistance and by the same token, we’re always there for them anytime they need anything from us. I can’t remember a time when the state police and the sheriff’s office and the local law enforcement agencies have worked so closely together. We’re very lucky to have the relationships we have.”

Though the Virginia State Police have jurisdiction over the entire state, their presence on the Interstate is well-known, if not always appreciated by motorists who tend to push the speed limit. But according to Reece, there is a purpose to heavily patrolling the highways.

“There’s always been a direct correlation between high visibility and aggressive enforcement and a lower crash rate. I hadn’t been here but two weeks when we had an eight car pileup on Interstate 81 at about the 95 mile marker. We’ve made a tremendous effort in curbing all these crashes. Fatal crashes are on the decline in this area”

In addition to working to reduce highway fatalities, the First Sergeant Reece has focused on community relations. Under his guidance, the Virginia State Police frequently do programs with local civic organizations involving gun safety, traffic safety and security. They are often called by local churches for advice on how to prevent an attack during a service and are currently working with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department in making a security assessment of all area schools.

The school assessment hits close to home as Reece’s nine-year-old daughter Laura, attends Pulaski Elementary School and will be amongst the first to attend the new Pulaski County Middle School.

In Reece’s view, the Dublin field office has three main goals, which are, “Cultivating our relationship with our citizens, lowering the crash rate and delivering the best customer service that we possibly can.”

Despite the occasional light aspects of the job, Reece is well aware of the awesome risks and responsibilities of his work.

“We get a lot of calls where we’ll get information that the subject is armed and that shots have been fired. I’ve answered a lot of those calls but as far as using my firearm on somebody, no, I haven’t. We know that something unexpected can happen when you answer that call. You never know what you’re going to face when you walk up on a vehicle or when you knock on the door. So we’re all trained and hopefully prepared. We all hope the time never comes when we have to use our firearm on another human being. That’s the last thing that any of us would evert want to do.”

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