Jason Daniels, left, on his last day as captain, with Joe Smith outside the sheriff’s office on Ocracoke.  Photo: C. Leinbach/Ocracoke Observer

By Connie Leinbach

As Captain Jason Daniels retires from the Hyde County Sheriff’s Department after 19 years, he sees the work he has done on Ocracoke as preventative medicine, if you will.

The police scene here is different from that of big city, adrenaline-pumping action.

On Ocracoke, a law officer is more truly like a peace officer because in a small community like this, the local deputies aren’t just in the blue brotherhood. They’re part of the community.

Because he cares, Daniels and his deputies have done things the rest of the community never hears about.

“Nobody sees me riding somebody around at two in the morning because someone is having a bad night,” he said on his last day as the captain of the deputies. “They can’t sleep; they pick the phone up and they call, and I go pick ‘em up and I ride ‘em around to try to help get it off their chest and clear their minds. Then I take them back home. People don’t see that.”

Daniels described policing on Ocracoke to the man who will take his place, Joe Smith, a longtime member of the mainland deputy force.

“Little things like that might save us a whole lot of trouble,” Smith added.

Smith is looking forward to a different pace on Ocracoke and understands Daniels’ philosophy: It’s all about prevention and de-escalation of conflicts.

“We always try to prevent (something worse) from happening, because here it takes up so many resources,” such as would be deployed in dealing with a head injury from someone falling off a golf cart, Daniels said. “We’re trying to prevent crime. We’re all likeminded. We all think that way.”

As emergency personnel, the deputies respond to every incident and stay for its aftermath.

“The community doesn’t see the times that we’re called out to deal with a suicide,” Daniels said. “They don’t see the times that we go out and we’re helping the EMS and we’re doing CPR on someone. After that, we’re still trying to help them. So, there’s a lot of dynamics that people don’t see here.”

Smith is no newcomer to Ocracoke since he has visited the island over the last two decades while his parents, Joe and Holly Smith, lived here when Joe Sr. worked for Tideland. They have since moved back to the mainland where the younger Smith’s family also lives and where he and his wife breed Labrador retrievers.

His son just graduated from Beaufort County Community College and his daughter attends ECU in Greenville.

Smith, who is a sergeant now, will become captain at the new fiscal year July 1. He realizes that the cultures on the mainland and Ocracoke are different.

The Hyde County Sheriff’s office on Ocracoke has a lot of unclaimed lost items, such as purses, cell phones and wallets. If you’ve lost something, check with them first by calling the nonemergency number: 252-028-7301. Photo: C. Leinbach

“But I’ve done this long enough and been working with Hyde County, I can walk right in here,” he said.

He knows it will take him some time to get to know everyone on the island.

“My time here has been wonderful,” Daniels said. “I’m gonna keep staying here and live here a little longer.”

One important reason Daniels is retiring now is because his son, Jacob, is living with his grandparents while attending Washington High School.  

“And I’m missing everything,” Daniels said.

He will still operate his thriving sign-making business and he is a skilled artist who carves decoys and fish, which he will continue to do.

He also hopes to revive the highly successful archery program for Ocracoke School students that has been on hiatus since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

As far as the crime in the last month, Daniels said they’ve been doing some calls but nothing that’s been overly glaring. He could not give specifics because the county is converting to a new computerized reporting system and reports are not ready. 

In other departmental news, Daniels said Cpl. Blackburn Warner will leave to join a force in California around mid-May. But by then, Brian Uarte will have returned from police academy training to rejoin the other deputies in rotation, Rob King and Jay Neal.

Never missing an opportunity to inform the public, Daniels reminded all golf cart operators that children aged 16 and over can drive golf carts but 15-year-olds with a driver’s permit cannot operate a golf cart even while with a parent. The law specifically says age 16.

Daniels says he’s leaving the island deputies in good hands with Smith.

“As far as a fit goes, for here, with me leaving this is a best-case scenario,” Daniels said about Smith. “He’s just got an easy demeanor like I have, and he’ll do the job and he’ll care about Ocracoke.”

Correction: The original story misspelled “reins” in the headline. This one corrects it.

Ocracoke sheriff deputies have collected police department patches from all over the world. Photo: C. Leinbach
An example of Jason Daniels’ art seen here in an island home. Photo: C. Leinbach