America’s once-youngest police chief reflects on his 45-year law enforcement career
At just 18 years old, Donnie was controlling a chaotic murder scene while others his age were still struggling to control their acne
In 1974, Donald “Donnie” Brock was 19 years old – serving as the youngest chief of police in the United States. Now, looking back after 45 years of service as a law enforcement officer, he has some insights for anyone considering the transition from the street to an upper management position.
But first, here is Donnie’s story.
Murder over a quarter
When Donnie and his twin brother, Ronnie, turned 18, Ronnie enlisted and Donnie entered police work. Donnie said his father, who spent his entire career in law enforcement, “pushed” him into policing.
“I was hired by the Bunnell (Fla.) Police Department in January 1974 as a patrol officer at the age of 18,” Donnie recalled. “In those days, I was allowed to work the job for months without formal training. They gave you a certain amount of time to attend rookie school (now called the academy). I attended in December 1974.”
Donnie made his first homicide arrest when two women got into an argument over a quarter at Macant’s Bar in Bunnell. “One of the women took a quarter from the other and was going to drop it into a jukebox to make a selection. The other woman, whose quarter had been taken, said, ‘If you drop the quarter into that jukebox, I’ll kill you.’ The woman with the quarter paid no attention to the warning and dropped it into the machine.”
Still with a tone of disbelief in his voice, Donnie recalled that “she shot her seven of 9 times. The seven rounds went into the quarter-thief’s back and two went into the floor.”
At just 18 years old, Donnie was controlling a chaotic murder scene while others his age were still struggling to control their acne.
The youngest chief
One month after his 19th birthday, Donnie became a national news story when he was appointed Chief of Police at the Bunnell Police Department. His hiring was reported by the Associated Press and featured in the November 1975 issue of People Magazine.
“I worked days and nights six days a week. I worked patrol, but also handled the duties of the chief’s position,” he said.
But when Charles Robson, Donnie’s former FTO, became Chief of Police at Flagler Beach (Fla.) PD, he offered Donnie a chance to restart his career as a patrol officer. Donnie happily jumped at the chance.
After that, Donnie moved to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy. Later, he joined the Ormond Beach (Fla.) Police Department, where he spent the next 26 years until his first retirement.
In 2012, he retired from the Ormond Police Department.
But after just one year of retirement, he returned to the Flagler County Sheriff’s Department as a judicial officer in 2013, where he worked five more years until he retired again in 2018 – rounding out a total of 45 years of law enforcement experience.
So, what about being chief at 19?
I asked Donnie, with hindsight being 20/20, “What was your experience like as a 19-year-old chief of police?”
He answered, “Even though I was 19, I handled it well because I was raised in Bunnell and knew everyone there and they all knew me. However, for any chief in a small town with all of the politics, the job is made more difficult than it needs to be.”
I followed up by asking, “Would you recommend hiring a chief of police today at the age of 19?”
He indirectly, but clearly, answered the question, stating, “In today’s world, I would not recommend an officer for a Field Training Officer’s position without having at least five years of experience.”
Donnie pointed out that a chief of police should have:
- At least five years of experience on the street.
- The ability to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk.
- The right education.
- Experience with the budgetary process.
- Administrative capability.
- The ability to navigate the politics of the position
Pursuing a chief or sheriff position
Donnie wants his story to be a cautionary tale to those pursuing a management position.
“Everyone is an individual, but I discovered I wanted to work the street. I loved working midnights. I wanted to be a cop,” he said.
Before you take on an upper management position, Donnie suggested you ask yourself these questions – honestly:
- Have I done all the learning I need to do in the position I am at?
- Am I ready to leave behind the job I love doing right now on the street by taking this new position?
If you answer “no” to those two questions, then stay where you are at.
Donnie’s current challenge
Donnie is currently in the midst of an epic battle with pancreatic cancer. His loving wife, Melissa, assisted him throughout this interview, part of which was done from his hospital bed.
We at Police1.com are extremely grateful to Donnie for sharing his insights in this interview under such difficult circumstances.
Donnie shared one last bit of advice on how to achieve long-term satisfaction and success in this profession, which he honorably performed for 45 years after he was “pushed into it.”
“Deciding to be a cop was the best decision I ever made. I loved it,” he said.
So, for satisfaction and success, love what you are doing. Who knows, maybe you’ll also find yourself looking back and reflecting on a job well done 45 years from now.