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Close to 900 people live in Stantonsburg, and chances are Police Chief Orlando Rosario Jr. knows most of them.
“What I like about this particular department is that we are able to have that one-on-one,” Rosario said. “We know each other. We look out for one another. We fellowship with one another. That’s what I like about Stantonsburg.”
Rosario, a native of the Bronx and a Marine Corps veteran, said Stantonsburg, located 10 miles south of Wilson on N.C. 58, is unique in that the police department doesn’t have a big call volume.
“We can actually go out here and do the little small stuff that maybe the bigger departments can’t do,” Rosario said. “We’ll do Shop with a Cop. We will eat with our elderly. We’ll do coffee with the community all the time and let them express some of their interests.”
Rosario leads a department of four full-time and two part-time officers.
“If we go to a wreck, nine times out of 10, we have eaten breakfast with them,” Rosario said. “We have helped them with their groceries at their house. We have escorted their children to school. We know them. It’s more personal. That’s why it will affect us a little more. It’s not just a number or a case number. That’s Mary Joe. That’s Johnnie. That’s little Ricky. We know them. We break bread with them. We’re with each other day in and day out.
“Whenever there is a crime over here and somebody breaks into a house, it’s not just another house,” Rosario said. “When you come over here and commit a crime in Stantonsburg, for us, it’s personal. It’s almost like breaking into my sister’s house or my mama’s house.”
That closeness to the community is evident in Rosario’s frequent visits to Stantonsburg Elementary School.
“He’s just a part of us completely,” said Principal Jenny Hayes.
Kimberly Wise, a fourth-grade teacher at the school, agreed.
“His force in this room is unbelievable,” Wise said after Rosario visited her class this week. “The children admire him and look up to him so much. He is just incredible the way he comes to our school and helps these children, gives them pointers and talks to them, and he is a great person to these kids. These kids know him very well. They run up to him. They want hugs. It also shows them that even the chief of police wants to see how they are doing and how they are progressing and getting ready for the next goals in their life.”
Rosario has been known to reward children’s stellar behavior with challenge coins.
Every morning, Rosario checks the speed of vehicles coming past the school on Main Street.
After stopping a vehicle in front of Lois Gardner’s house on Saratoga Road, Gardner comes out of the house to heap praise on Rosario.
“I’m so afraid some of these kids are going to get hit,” Gardner said. “They fly through here. It’s absolutely ridiculous. I thank that chief. He’s a good one.”
Rosario says drivers should know better than to speed through a school zone, especially since the chief’s car is sitting there with its blue lights on doing regular speed checks.
“Every once in a while you get someone who thinks the speed limit is a suggestion,” the chief said.
At the department’s office on Commercial Avenue, Rosario’s passion about the history of Stantonsburg is apparent.
Right in the front door, there is a portrait recognizing the community’s first police officer, William Blount Garris, who served from 1874-1926.
On another wall hangs a Medal of Valor from Sept. 19, 1966, honoring Police Chief David Reasons. The chief was killed in the line of duty while responding to a domestic dispute right across the street from the police station.
“I found this literally earmarked for destruction. It was sitting in the corner of a supply closet to be thrown away,” Rosario said. “I felt like it shouldn’t be sitting in a corner somewhere. It should be out here on display for all to see.”
In a nearby display case, Rosario has a Stantonsburg Township Wilson County constable badge from 1907. That’s the year the town was founded, for the third time.
According to the town’s website, Stantonsburg was populated by American Indians until 1720. The first white settlers arrived in 1745. Stantonsburg was first incorporated Dec. 20, 1817. As a result of damage during the Civil War, the town gave up its charter. Stantonsburg incorporated again in 1873, but an 1890 fire resulted in the town charter being allowed to lapse. After a period of growth, the North Carolina General Assembly granted Stantonsburg its third town charter on Feb. 26, 1909.
Officers have collected and displayed various artifacts from the business of policing, including patches, commemorative coins, old radios, an antiquated radar gun and other paraphernalia.
“Without our history, we would never know where our future is going,” Rosario said. “Not everything that we have done in history has been perfect, but I feel that if we can learn from some of our mistakes, it will keep us from repeating them in the future.”