The City of Covington’s longest tenured employee retired after 45 years of serving the city and its residents as a police officer. A living link to Covington’s past, Almond Turner retired from his post as Assistant Police Chief, a title he has held since 1997.
A lifelong Covington resident, Turner attended R.L. Cousins school and graduated in 1968. There he saw first-hand the start of integration in the Newton County public school system.
“When I was in high school, there were several students who ended up going to Newton County High School,” Turner said. “That was the start of integration, which didn’t officially happen until 1971 at Newton County High School.”
After high school, Turner’s aptitude for the trumpet and love of music took him to Fort Valley State University where he majored in music with dreams of becoming a band director.
“After college, I was playing in local bands and having fun, but my wife and I just had our first child,” Turner said. “My father passed away when I was only eight, and growing up my mother taught me that as a man, it was my responsibility to take care of my family and put food on the table. My trumpet just wasn’t doing it.”
While working a side job as a security officer, Turner noticed a hiring ad for the Atlanta Police Department and decided to apply. His wife encouraged him to pursue an opening at the City of Covington Police Department because that is where they both grew up. Turner applied for both jobs and the day before he reported to take a physical for the Atlanta Police Department, Covington Police Chief Doug Digby called him for an interview. Turner was hired as a Covington police officer on June 13, 1972.
“I had plans to become a band director, but God had other plans,” Turner said. “He had plans for me to serve and protect and I am glad I was obedient to Him and followed the plans He had.”
Turner still has a pay check stub from his first days on the job where he earned $125.55 for 45 hours of work in one week, before taxes. Also on Turner’s check is a $15 deduction, just one of several payments he had to make for his service revolver.
“We had to pay for our shoes, weapon, flashlight and our belt,” Turner said. “We even had to buy our own bullets. It is a far cry from where we are today as a department.”
Not surprisingly, Turner admits being an African American officer in Covington in 1972 had its challenges. When he started working, he wasn’t allowed to patrol the white neighborhoods unless he was called to back up a white officer.
“It is probably what you think it was,” Turner said of his early days on the job. “It was frustrating at times and I was called some unpleasant things occasionally and there were certainly moments when I would ask myself if I should be putting my life on the line every day to protect people who look down on me because of my skin color.
“But my mother taught me not to allow people’s ignorance of how they see you because of your skin color make you feel inferior and allow that to keep you from reaching your goals. So I kept going and I am so glad I did.”
In addition to his duties as a patrolman, Turner was asked to lead a Community Relations unit designed to develop relationships with youth in Covington, which he continued to do throughout his career. Turner was promoted to Lieutenant in the Investigative Division in 1978 and then to Captain in 1984. He would be named Assistant Police Chief in 1997 and held that title through his retirement.
“Back when I started, you might scuffle with someone because they had too much to drink and they needed to go to jail,” Turner remembered. “The next day you would see them and they would apologize and make sure they didn’t hurt you. Our town was smaller then and you knew everybody. Those days are gone.
“People are more transient now and a lot of people have no respect for law enforcement. It is just a different way of thinking and it is scary. That is why it means so much when someone on the street thanks us for our service.”
Promotions, participating on the SWAT team and acceptance to the FBI Academy are at the top of Turner’s accomplishments, but he is most proud of the work he has done to help create a safe community that still has a small town feel. Personally, Turner is fulfilled knowing his mother was proud of her family.
“I have a brother who retired as a Battalion Chief from the Covington Fire Department,” Turner said. “I am so proud that my mother got to see her sons be successful and knew her hard work as a parent wasn’t in vain.”
Police Chief Stacey Cotton leaned on Turner for guidance during his first years as Chief and continues to do so.
“My friendship with Almond goes far beyond our working relationship and I call him a close friend,” Cotton said. “He policed in a time that was very different from when I came along, or even now. He has been able to keep me grounded in the reality of what our communities need and how to make this department more successful.”
Asked why he thought he was able to stay in the same line of work with the same employer for 45 years, Turner had a simple response.
“I love helping people, I have a very supportive family and my coworkers are incredible people,” Turner said. “But above all that, God protected me.”
With his new found leisure time, Turner plans to travel more with his wife Anita, spend more time with his children Dwahn, Shaye and Shundra and increase his civic activities on the school board and at his church. He isn’t ready to totally withdraw from police work, though.
“I’m still going to be heavily involved with the Citizen’s Police Academy,” Turner said of the organization he helped create. “We educate citizens about the functions of the police department and build relationships between the community and the police department. There are some exciting things happening there and we are seeing our efforts pay off.”