Police laud legacy of late officer


Milton Harris


Staff Writer

Monday, December 17, 2018

A former longtime officer with the Rocky Mount Police Department who was laid to rest recently is remembered for his class, dignity and being a trailblazer in local law enforcement.

Pinetops native Milton Harris, who died Dec. 3 at the age of 76, served almost 30 years with the Rocky Mount Police Department. He gean work at the department in 1969.

During his time with the police department, Harris moved up the ranks and is known for being the second African-American to be named a captain at the department.

While serving as captain of the Staff Services Division, Harris’ duties included officer recruitment, in-service training and management of other internal support service such as animal and parking control, taxi and wrecker inspections and telecommunications. He was also responsible for the division’s operating budget and for providing training and guidance to subordinate supervisors

Interim Rocky Mount Police Chief Willie Williams was Harris’ training officer and the two men rode together as partners for about four years. Williams has high regard for the character of Harris and his being an integral part of bringing more minorities and women officers into the agency.

“He was a very good officer, who was smart and he had a great ability to identify potential problems,” Williams said. “He recruited all the time and we made a lot of progress during his time in diversifying the police department. He was also instrumental in getting the police mobile command unit. He sort of found the money and did the leg work. Those are some of the things he contributed that go beyond normal duties.”

James Silver, who has been a deputy with the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office for two years,  is the grandson of former Rocky Mount police chief John Manley, who was the first African-American police chief at the Rocky Mount Police Department. Silver said Harris was his grandfather’s mentor and someone he looked up to and inspired him to serve in law enforcement.

“Just growing up, he would tell me to get your education and when I became an officer to always know how to serve,” Silver said. “He told me you can arrest everybody, but can you serve everybody? Each and every day, I don’t put on a uniform looking to arrest people. I go out looking to serve people and some law enforcement officers can’t wrap themselves around that philosophy.”

Edgecombe County Sheriff Clee Atkinson said he and Harris both attended Thorne’s Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Harris was an active member until his health began to fail and was known to help cook and deliver meals to the sick and shut in. 

Atkinson remembered as a young law enforcement officer what stood out to him about Harris was his presence and how he carried himself. Harris’ daughter, Latrece Harris, who is a teacher at Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools, described her father as someone that wore the uniform with pride and took great care in his appearance. He wanted his uniform immaculate and his shoes shined to perfection. 

“He also encouraged his officers to have the same attitude toward their appearance,” Harris said.

Atkinson said the best advice Harris gave him was to make sure to always treat people like he would treat his family. When Atkinson was appointed sheriff, Harris told him something that has continued to resonate with him to this day.

“He told me to never forget where I came from and to always lean on God,” Atkinson said.

Latrece Harris said during her father’s tenure at the police department not only did he fight crime, he also once delivered a baby. He also participated in a case involving a man who had barricaded himself into a house and was threatening to attempt suicide.

“He was able to talk the man and de-escalate the situation and he would go out of his way to help others,” Harris said.

J. Russell Harris, a nephew of Harris, is the associate pastor at Greater Joy Church in Rocky Mount. Harris said when he went to basic law enforcement training to become an officer he selected his nickname to be “Captain Harris” because of the admiration people in law enforcement had for his uncle.

Unfortunately, for Harris, an injury he sustained caused him to resign from the field of law enforcement. But Harris said he found joy in knowing he could still be just like his uncle by being a man of character and grandeur.

“It’s an honor to hear and witness how well respected my uncle was in the community and abroad,” he said. “Capt. Milton Harris was a stellar gentleman who I will always carry in my heart for as long as I live.”