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Dispatches from dads: Florida cops weigh in on fatherhood, COVID-19, race

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

Thanks to a global pandemic and nationwide discussions on policing and race, fatherhood these days for West Palm Beach police officer Covelle Padgett involves more time racing to the shower, cooking for his children and talking with his family about being Black in America.

Padgett comes home from work and heads straight to the shower, he said, before gearing up for his new part-time gig as “cafeteria worker” for his four children.

Like children across the country, his three teenagers and 7-year-old have been home for months, as has his wife, who works in education. Padgett is doing his best not to bring the virus home.

But the conversations on policing and racism are unavoidable, he said.

In separate telephone interviews Wednesday ahead of Father’s Day, Padgett and West Palm Police Chief Frank Adderley spoke of their roles as fathers, police officers and Black men.

When Adderley’s son Charles, now 27, was growing up, saying goodbye before Adderley went to work a shift with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department was serious, the chief recalled.

“One of the things you do before you leave is you hug them and you kiss them and tell them how much you love them,” Adderley said. “You know what the dangers (of the job) are.”

Padgett was working security and EMT gigs when his son was born 17 years ago. It changed everything, he said.

“When I first became a father, it was, like, surreal,” Padgett said. “It makes you more responsible. It makes you grow up. It makes you realize that I have another life I have to provide for.”

About a decade ago, as a single father of two young children, Padgett took a job as an officer with West Palm Beach police.

Padgett admits: Law enforcement wasn’t his first career choice. Relatives were opposed because, Padgett said, “Being African American, law enforcement has never been kind to many of us.” He also was worried how he’d be received.

“I am so glad that I made that decision to cross over into law enforcement,” Padgett said.

Padgett is involved with the department’s G.R.E.A.T. — Gang Resistance Education And Training — program, which draws from a nationwide curriculum to curb gang activity and violence among children.

As part of that, Padgett mentors West Palm Beach children and engages with their families, encouraging open communication between parent and child, helping children tackle peer pressure and demystifying the police department by forging personal bonds, he said.

All are lessons he takes home to his own children.

He’s also learned from within the department. Padgett points to the emotional support his coworkers have given him after being involved in a fatal shoot-out in 2012 during which his partner was injured. As he has learned to articulate his feelings, he in turn is more equipped to help his children explain theirs.

Police work has made him a better father, he said.

Similarly, being a father has made Adderley be a better police officer, he said.

He jokes that his son is his “biggest critic.” Charles Adderley, who lives in Orlando and manages a roofing company, watches his father’s interviews online and reminds the elder Adderley to sit straighter, phrase sentiments better and engage more with younger residents.

The father and son discuss community policing, the nationwide unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a former Minneapolis police officer and generational divides on what role law enforcement should play.

So what do the fathers tell their children about interacting with police?

“First of all, be truthful,” Padgett said. “Be honest. Make sure that you are in a well-lighted area and try to be around other people as much as possible.

“And if you do have time, call me.”

Both Padgett and Adderley said that what they’ve taught their children about interacting with police, mainly to be respectful, is advice they hope parents of every color tell their children.

With the national spotlight once again focused on policing and race, Padgett has stressed to his children the inequality goes far beyond policing.

“I have to tell them that still to this day, people don’t like the way you look because of the color of your skin, but that's not just police work. That's every profession,” he said.