Sergeant Rick Leach, one of the town's best known officers, retires Nov. 30. He is the town's first police officer to retire after serving his entire 25-year career with the Holly Springs Police Department.
Leach, who is supervisor of the nine-member School Resource Officer Program, has served at every public school in Holly Springs over the years. His friendly and outgoing personality has made him popular with students, faculty and parents.
"He's the most well-known officer we have bar none, and the reason is because he interacts with so many people in all the schools we have," Police Chief John Herring said. "People are accustomed to seeing his smiling face, and he's impacted a lot of people. There's no telling how many thousands of kids have been engaged by him."
Serving as a school resource officer has been the favorite part of Leach’s career in law enforcement.
"That has been the most fulfilling part of my career – being able to make a difference in children's lives – also, those children making a difference in my life," he said. "With that came a lot of relationships, a lot of friendships, and a lot of bonding."
Leach’s career with Holly Springs began in 1993 when he was the third full-time officer hired by the police department formed the previous year. Before then, policing in Holly Springs was covered sporadically by town-hired officers and county sheriffs. Even in the early 1990s, the town did not provide 24-hour police coverage; after full-time officers ended their shifts, county sheriffs answered calls.
"Unlike a lot of cities, our police department history doesn't go back to the 1800s," Herring said. "We're making that history every day, and Rick Leach's retirement as well as his career will be part of that rich history one day."
Leach decided to go into policing after being encouraged by Apex Police Captain Jacques Gilbert, who has since retired.
After completing Basic Law Enforcement Training, Leach served as a patrol officer. At that time, the town's population was in the low thousands. Police, fire and emergency medical services were combined in a single department. Leach cross-trained as a firefighter and first responder.
In 2003, he was assigned to the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Leach was promoted to sergeant in 2007 and given the responsibility of overseeing the day-to-day activities of the SRO program.
In May 2016, he was awarded an Advanced Law Enforcement Certificate from the N.C. Department of Justice. It is the highest state certification for police officers and is based on years of service, education and job-related training.
Holly Springs' nine-officer SRO program forms the largest squad in the Police Department with an officer dedicated to each school. Although he assists wherever needed, Leach spends much of his time at Holly Springs High School. He often is sought out by young adults who come back to visit their schools after having graduated.
In addition to his work in Holly Springs schools, Leach has assisted with the Police Department's community outreach efforts.
"It's just a natural thing for him," Herring said.
Over 25 years, Leach has seen Holly Springs evolve from a one-stoplight town with no grocery store to "a very popular town that I love."
In retirement, he wants to spend more time with his family, which includes 11 siblings, three children and four grandchildren. Leach also plans to continue his pressure washing business and security work at WakeMed.
After a fulfilling career, leaving the Police Department is difficult for Leach because of the relationships he has built.
"It can choke you up because now I have two families that I care a great deal for: my law enforcement family and my biological family," he said. "At the end of the day, I will be walking away from one part of that family, and that is tough. ... I’ve enjoyed every year, every day of my career with the Town of Holly Springs."