Monroe County Sheriff Office’s Lt. Derek Paul is home again. After 17 years as a law enforcement officer, the Marathon native is once again serving in his hometown and had been promoted into the No. 2 slot, as Key Vaca Substation Commander, to replace retiring Capt. Bruce Winegarden.
“It’s nice to be back — very, very nice,” Paul said. “I can add two hours to my day that I don’t spend driving.”
Paul was born and raised in Marathon and now he and his wife, Christine, are raising their two sons in the same hometown — Raymond, 9, and Christopher, 5. They practice T-ball and minor league baseball on the same Stanley Switlik Elementary field where Paul himself played.
“Obviously the games are played at the new park, but they are still practicing at Switlik,” he said.
Paul said he always wanted to go into law enforcement. And if the reasons stem from some teenage hijinks that may or may not pepper Paul’s past, well, he can say he came by his career interests honestly.
“I never had an unpleasant encounter with a police officer,” he said, breaking into a big grin.
Truth is, that bland expression he normally wears is carefully cultivated to mask a wide streak of mischief. Just ask MCSO Major Lou Caputo; he has a list of “grievances.”
“He’s quite the prankster. I can’t leave my office unlocked when he’s around,” Caputo said with false outrage. “There was the time he installed some type of program that made my computer mouse go in the opposite direction. And the time he snuck into my office and turned all my plaques — cops love plaques — upside down right before a big meeting. And on my 50th birthday, he ‘decorated’ my office with a skeleton, a walker and other stuff.”
Caputo said that every time he called Paul onto the carpet for the jokes, Paul would appear very meek and mild.
“It’s all ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,’ very polite. He’s one of those guys,” Caputo, said laughing.
It’s a welcome respite from the serious business of policing. Caputo said Paul is generous and hardworking.
“When we have a task to do, he’ll get it done and get it done like right now,” Caputo said. “And he cares about his community. When you have somebody that knows the people and loves the town, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Paul is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute, an intense three-month course designed to prepare officers for a leadership role in the law enforcement hierarchy, with all the attendant skills needed to perform well. As Key Vaca Substation Commander, Paul handles the day-to-day operations. It’s his job to ensure all the shifts are covered, road patrol is where it should be and that officers have all the equipment they need.
“I’ll still respond out on priority calls,” Paul said.
Paul started in the corrections division at both the Key West and Marathon jail. Then he crossed over to become a road deputy. Serving in Key Largo, he was promoted to sergeant and then promoted to lieutenant in Plantation Key. He also served in Islamorada and was on the scene in 2013 when a man in Venetian Shores opened fire on MCSO deputies. The deputies returned fire and the man subsequently died.
“You train for it. But no matter how many times you rehearse it in your head, you never expect it to happen. There’s always a shock factor,” Paul said.
Having experienced every realm of law enforcement in the Keys, including a stint on the water as a resource officer, Paul said his idea of community policing is simple.
“Be fair to everybody. Treat everybody the same,” Paul said, “that’s it.”
Little known fact:
Lt. Derek Paul used to be a firefighter.