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Fallen deputy’s lasting lesson: Wear kindness like a badge of honor

News4Jax photojournalist recounts ride-along with Deputy Joshua Moyers while in ‘Explorers’ program

Deputy Josh Moyers, 35, joined the Nassau County Sheriff's Office in 2015.
Deputy Josh Moyers, 35, joined the Nassau County Sheriff's Office in 2015.

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – When I was a child, watching new episodes of “COPS” on Saturday night with my grandfather was a tradition. Foot chases, flashing lights and sirens, and seeing the “bad guys” get caught was the highlight of each week.

That interest never faded. As I grew into my teens, I found out about a boy-scout-style program called “Police Explorers,” a nationwide program that allows young men and women to “explore” a career in law enforcement. That’s where I was first introduced to Josh Moyers, the Nassau County deputy who was fatally shot a week ago during a traffic stop.

Deputy Moyers was ending his time in the program and beginning his career in law enforcement while I was beginning my experience as an explorer. I pictured myself in his shoes one day, leaving the Explorer program, putting on a badge and gun, and getting my very own patrol car -- what an exciting thought.

As a patrol deputy, Moyers was open to having explorers ride along on his shifts. He went through the program and understood our desire to learn more about police work, and maybe even see something cool out on the road.

This photo was taken in 2012 and posted on Facebook by the Justice Coalition when Moyers was in the Explorers program.

On my first ride-along with Moyers, we stopped a car occupied by a suspected drug dealer who had prior run-ins with the law -- I was thrilled to watch this unfold. We pulled him over, quickly found a substantial number of illegal drugs in the car and made a quick arrest.

During this stop, I remember the driver carrying himself with a sense of arrogance. Moyers remained professional, explained every step of the traffic stop, vehicle search, and subsequent arrest to the driver, and never once talked down to the man.

Once the arrest was made, something had to happen with the car. In my experience riding with other officers, a tow truck would be called, but this driver mentioned having a girlfriend close by. Moyers asked the man if it would help him out to have his girlfriend pick the car up.

“Why would you wanna help me?” the driver replied with a mix of shock and caution. I suspect he thought Moyers was up to something. To the best of my memory, Moyers explained that he had no reason to take the car into evidence and didn’t see why the vehicle needed to be impounded if it wasn’t necessary.

After we took the man into booking and went back on patrol, Moyers explained to me that he wanted every person he came across to see him as a kind cop. He believed police work could be done with professionalism, integrity and kindness.

In that same conversation, I asked him if being a police officer was still worth it, with the change in climate toward law enforcement. He told me that attitude is everything, and he couldn’t see himself doing anything else. Moyers said he went to bed every night excited and ready to come back the next day and do it again.

I had different takeaways from the officers I spent time around as an eager-to-learn “explorer” -- JSO Officer Gray taught me that Christians can be police officers and stay true to their faith. Officer Lamb taught me that the best leaders don’t need rank. FHP Trooper Bowen taught me that a great sense of humor makes everything a little better. NCSO Deputy Walton taught me to keep my head on a swivel, and never be complacent.

Deputy Josh Moyers taught me to wear kindness like a badge and wear it proud. Our community isn’t as whole as it was a week ago, but we can carry Josh’s legacy by being kind to each other today -- and in the days ahead.