At 18, Danny Bartello knew his career was going to involve the law one way or another. The question was whether he would be practicing law or enforcing it.
"It was a tie between being a lawyer, that my granddaddy wanted me to be - which he was - and being a policeman," said Bartello. "It came down to, at a time when I was young, I didn't want to dedicate myself to all that school. I would do the easier thing at the time, I thought, and wait until I turned 21 and become a police officer."
Sgt. Bartello, 41, a compact man with an iron handshake, is now an 18-year veteran of the Covington Police Department. His clean-cut, earnest demeanor and modesty underlie a preoccupied alertness that seems to come from his years on the job.
He began his law enforcement career at 18 as a dispatcher with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office and spent a year and a half with the Lithonia Police Department before being hired by Covington in 1989.
Along the way he's worked in a variety of shifts and assignments, including night shift, day shift, housing authority, and has been trained as a certified instructor. He's also seen the population of Covington swell rapidly, although he notes violent crimes in the city seem to be going down compared to the '90s.
Bartello was recently promoted to sergeant, a change that's still sinking in for him, even though he had been the officer in charge for several years.
"It's been kind of overwhelming. I thought I was doing a lot of the job until I stepped in and saw how much more it entailed," he said. "But they've all been there (for me). 'If you need anything, let me know, we'll walk you through it.'"
He oversees a team of seven uniformed police officers during the day shift and is also preparing to take on additional administrative responsibilities when his supervisor leaves for the national FBI academy in September.
His goal is to be the type of boss people want to work for.
"I've even talked to the guys that I work with," he said. "I told them 'Y'all see me getting too big for my britches, y'all talk to me.' Because I don't want to be that type of boss. I want to be fair. I want to remember where I came from. Treat y'all right, but also just know that I have a job to do."
Bartello, a graduate of Rockdale County High School, was born in DeKalb County and moved to Conyers when he was 11 after his mother remarried.
He has fond memories of growing up in Conyers, riding his bicycle with his friends to the drug store for sandwiches at the soda fountain, playing pickup games of baseball and football, and riding go-carts in the large garden of the drug store owner.
"Parents didn't worry about us back then. We could go and come as we please. And nowadays there's no way in this world I'd let my children go off and do things like that."
He worries for his daughter, Faith, 11, starting the sixth grade next year at Indian Creek Middle School.
"What we see, through our job, middle school kids are dabbling in stuff that I used to see in high school kids or older kids," he said. "They're already doing and selling drugs in middle school, having premarital sex in middle school. On school busses, I've gotten calls where the kids are performing oral acts. We've already found them selling marijuana in middle school. That's why I'm really nervous. That's just a lot that my daughter's never seen. All you can do is raise her up right, teach her right from wrong, and pray that she'll stay away from that and they won't bother her."
The cloud of worry lifts for a moment and a grin stretches across his face when he describes the passions and interests of his kids, Faith, a fashion-conscious pre-teen who loves the TLC television show "What Not To Wear," and Daniel, a precocious two-year-old obsessed with baseball and guitars.
"I know you're thinking, 'At two-and-a-half, how much can he do?' But he has a couple of small guitars and he'll strum and try to work the frets with his hands already. And baseball, he knows how to swing at the ball hard as can be and slide and run. Everyday he talks about, 'let's go play baseball, let's go play baseball'" said Bartello.
He said he's grateful that his new assignment allowed him to stay on the day shift so that he could spend time with his kids in the evenings.
When asked what keeps him on job as a police officer, he sighs and thinks for a moment.
"It's never boring and it's not redundant, even though sometimes it might seem like it is," he said. "Our job has always been characterized as, back when it was eight hours a day, as seven hours and 50 minutes of boredom and 10 minutes of sheer terror."
"You just don't ever know what's going to happen. You go to these calls and take them for granted and then in a blink of an eye, you'll see somebody's disposition change and rage comes out of them. It's not the person they see; it's the uniform and the authority."
"We go from marriage counselors to disciplinarians to being the folks' mommy and daddy because they can't get their children to do right and call us because Johnny won't get on the school bus."
"It's getting more and more common with that," he added. "Calling us because they can't get the kids to do whatever so they call us to parent their children."
"You just don't ever know," he said.