The daughter of a plant worker in Merry Hill, N.C., Derri Stormer has always been drawn to people. Finding those meaningful interactions in law enforcement, Stormer launched her career right out of college.
Her passion for community policing and desire to build community has made her a popular figure within the campus communities she has served, and Wake Forest is no different. Founding the Deacon Student Patrol in 2016, Stormer has always been an advocate for community and student involvement in the struggle to keep our community safe.
Growing up, how was the relationship that people in your community had with the police?
It was different because Merry Hill had no local police, but we had the sheriff’s office. That being said, there might be only two deputies patrolling the whole county, and it hasn’t changed much even today. My cousin is actually the sheriff there. It’s also a good chance that [the deputy] was a relative. Everybody knows each other, so they’d show up, and it would be like, “hey, cousin such-and-such.”
What inspired or drove you to get involved with law enforcement?
I think it’s just always been there. I remember being as young as fifth grade and saying I was going to be an F.B.I. agent. I have no idea where it came from. There are no agents in my family. I’ve heard back in the day there were some police officers, but my family’s more military. But even throughout all of high school, I said I was going to be an F.B.I. agent. And I still was going to do that. But of course, relationships happen, and things alter.
How did your career in law enforcement begin; where was your first job?
I was a criminal justice major at ECU, but ended up transferring for my last year to UNC-Wilmington. That’s when I really started looking at law enforcement more. I worked as a security guard with the police department and got really close with the cops there. After graduation, I moved back to Greenville and started the academy immediately. Afterwards, I was officially sworn in as an officer in the Winterville Police Department. Winterville was kind of like the suburbs of Greenville, and I liked the small-town feel because I love the one-on-one.
What led you to working at colleges?
I always knew I wanted to go back to a campus. I started working part-time for ECU while still working full-time in Winterville and then eventually transitioned into a full-time job there. I was young, I loved the work, and with the pay raise I thought I’d hit the lottery. Community policing is natural for me and so is campus law enforcement. A lot of people leave cities and go to campuses as a second career. That’s not me. I love the fact that a university is essentially its own little city, and I live for the interactions that I get to have with students.
Speaking of community policing, the Deacon Student Patrol program that you direct here, was that inspired by past experiences?
Yes, they already had a program at ECU years prior to me. It evolved while I was there to the point where we had 30 students involved. They had shifts just like the officers, they had supervisors, the whole break down of ranking, all of that.
How did your experience with that program help mold the Deacon Student Patrol?
It’s different here, the academic rigor, the fact that people are so engaged. I haven’t met a student here yet that is not involved in two or three things and may have a job on top of that. So, it took a lot of tweaking. We figured out the hours that worked best and also established some stationary posts so students could still get some work done while still on duty.
How has the Deacon Student Patrol program been received by the student community?
It probably took a year for people to understand that they weren’t snitches for the police department. We’re not sending them in to dorms to spy and report back — that’s not the goal. And it took a lot of speaking to different groups on campus to help students understand that they’re just here to help you.
One student involved with Deacon Student Patrol who I spoke with mentioned the strong diversity within the group. Why do you think this is?
Now, that is something that has always shocked me. I do go into a lot of those student spaces, and in many cases, people within those groups act as their own self-recruiters.
And how does this diversity add value to the program and its goals?
It really allows the Deacon Student Patrol to break that barrier. When our students go out and recruit even more people, others notice and start gaining trust in the program. And the diversity that comes from that really leads to a closer relationship between University Police and students who may come from backgrounds where there’s a poor relationship with the police.
Lastly, what’s the most fulfilling thing for you to see in the program?
There’s nothing more rewarding than when students in the program promote it. They speak the truth about it because they are the ones living the experience. And to hear that they enjoy it enough to go out of their way to pitch the program to others — that’s what makes me happy.