Sunday, July 15 marked the 25th anniversary of Dawson’s first day donning the blue and beginning an illustrious career serving the Auburn community.
Sitting in his office at the police station on North Ross Street, Dawson reminisced about his 1987 job interview with Bill Holder, who was the chief of police at the time.
“Chief Bill Holder asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “Well, eventually I’d like to be chief of police here at Auburn,” Dawson said.
Dawson begun his working life as a construction worker and later on as a Wal-Mart employee.
Not feeling fulfilled in either of those professions, he decided to become a police officer.
Dawson, however, did not view the Auburn Police department as a job.
“If you’re in it for a job, you’re in the wrong business,” Dawson said. “It’s a calling.”
The son of a Baptist minister, Dawson was instilled with a desire to help his community from an early age.
Not wanting to become a pastor, Dawson aspired to follow in the footsteps of those he admired to serve the town he loved in the best way he knew how: becoming the chief of police.
His cousin Edwin Dawson was chief of police for a number of years, and Dawson said he always looked up to him and his fellow officers.
When Sgt. John Davis spoke to a young Dawson’s 3rd grade class, Dawson knew he had found his calling.
“From that day on, it was the career I wanted to pursue, (because) he left such an impression on me,” Dawson said.
Dawson finally achieved his goal on July 7, 2010, with the retirement of former Chief of Police Frank de Graffenreid, another one of Dawson’s heroes.
“I was just humbled,” Dawson said. “I had received a lot of awards, and every time I made rank in the department I was humbled and felt extremely blessed, extremely thankful.”
Already married to his wife Candy and father of his then 17-year-old daughter Hannah while also caring for 12 goats, a brood of chickens and a brace of ducks, Dawson took the helm of the police force and extended his care to the newest members of his family: the citizens of Auburn.
“I feel very responsible (for the community),” Dawson said. “The day I can come in here and not feel responsible for this community [means] it’s time for me to get out of this business.”
Even when he’s at home, Dawson feels the need to listen to his radio and gauge the activities of his larger family.
“I’ll wake up sometimes at 3 in the morning, turn it on and see what the guys are doing,” Dawson said.
As Dawson recounts the most memorable cases in his career – the death of Lauren Burke and the fatal shooting of the three young men at University Heights– it’s clear that he feels responsible for the tragedies he had no power to stop.
“You can go home, but you can’t sleep,” Dawsone said. “It wouldn’t be right for me to be home sleeping when the guys are out here working and a mama and a daddy are somewhere crying,.”
During the aftermath of the June 9 shooting, various reports on the manhunt and the status of the victims were permeating the mediasphere.
And yet, it was Dawson who kept the chaos organized as he informed the public of all necessary and factual information in his trademark measured, Southern accent, all the while aching at the losses himself.
One of the people Dawson called that night, Montgomery Police Chief Kevin Murphy, said he had nothing but the utmost respect for his Auburn compatriot.
“I thought he provided the city of Auburn and the members of his department with outstanding leadership during very troubling times,” Murphy said.
Auburn has sensed this passion and have responded in turn, most recently with a bevy of letters, emails, phone calls and an employee of the month award from the city thanking Dawson for his work on the case.
However, Dawson remains humble.
“The group of officers we got here, they give their all; so that’s the people I’d like to see get the most credit for it,” Dawson said.
Becoming chief was never about the power, the money or the prestige for Dawson. It’s about taking care of his own.
“If I can save one life or turn one around, I feel like my whole 25 years have been worth it,” Dawson said. “What I try to look at is not if you’re good at your job, but are you a good person.”
For a man that has seen too much blood, death and tears, he has learned not to take life for granted and has devoted his life to doing exactly what the shield on his chest suggests: protecting.
As for the students, in the area, Dawson has a message intended directly for them.
“If any student has a problem, email me with it and I’ll get someone on it or get on it myself,” Dawson said. “This is just as much their police department as anybody.”
For questions or concerns, contact Chief Dawson at email@example.com