First African American patrol officer in Jacksonville receives highest state honor

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KINSTON, N.C. (WNCT) – It’s the highest honor in the state given to citizens.

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine award is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state. Contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers and many years of service to their organizations are some of the guidelines by which recipients are selected for this award.

For Levi Simmons, this award means so much to his family and more importantly the children of Kinston, who to this day he still serves.

His career as an officer began in Jacksonville on August 1, 1967. During this time as an officer, he experienced racism and other hardships.

Through much prayer, Lt Simmons persevered through those harsh times. He wanted to be an inspiration to young black officers and a positive role model to the black community. He went on to accomplish numerous history-making firsts in Onslow County:

  1. First black officer to drive a patrol car.
  2. Patrol white neighborhoods,
  3. Achieve rank as a Lieutenant
  4. Work throughout the State for Federal and State Bureaus of Investigation, US Marshall and Military intelligence
  5. Supervise the Special Operation Division.

Over 50 years, later he was recognized for being the longest serving, certified active duty officer in North Carolina.

Through faith and hard work, Corporal Levi Simmons has served his community well; but, it wasn’t easy.

“I had a lot of struggles,” said Simmons. “I was the first officer that worked the white communities in the neighborhood and drive a police car which was quite an adjustment.

Simmons served for more than five decades. Most of that time as a school resource officer.

With perseverance, Simmons continued to withstand the good and the bad.

For Kinston Police Chief Alonzo James, it’s not what he’s accomplished but his attitude that sticks out the most.

“He’s taking community policing to the next level before community policing was a catchphrase,” said James. “Corporal Simmons has always been pleasant, always in a good mood, very appreciative of his job and his opportunities to engage the community.

On Monday evening, Simmons along with members of his family gathered inside the town hall for a night, they won’t forget.

Simmons has a message for everyone to remember.

“Do the best that you can do and do it correctly, and you won’t’ have any problems,” said Simmons.

Corporal Simmons retired in December 2017.

He still serves as a volunteer with the department’s Sentinel Service program.

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