Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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June 7, 2014

Saluting Service: Baggett retires after 32 years at CPD

Corsicana — It was a friend that encouraged her to apply for a job as a police department dispatcher.

In the 32 years and 5 months that she spent with that same law enforcement agency, Ladena Baggett has encouraged countless others in the department through her leadership and mentoring.

And those are the memories of which she is most proud.

But for now, it’s time for family, Baggett said, and perhaps some travel with husband Neal, himself a former lawman and county probation agent, who retired from the county in 2008.

Baggett, 55, officially retired from the Corsicana Police Department on May 31. At her request, she stepped down without “fanfare” or ceremony or photo opportunities.

But Baggett’s contributions to the agency through eight different chiefs of police — yes, she named them all — is certainly worthy of merit.

A 1977 graduate of Corsicana High School, Baggett joined the force at the urging of another lawman — Johnny Lake, now a sergeant with the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office (and that department’s longest tenured employee.) He told Baggett about the opening for a dispatcher at the city.

“I never had any aspirations to be in police work at all,” Baggett recalled. “I started as a dispatcher, and that’s where the ‘bug’ got me.”

Baggett would work as a dispatcher for a couple of years, then she left Navarro County and moved to Washington state for a year, but soon returned to Corsicana, and to police work.

“I came back as a dispatcher, then took the test and got hired on as a police officer,” Baggett said. That was in 1981, under then-Chief Don Massey.

Baggett took another two-year break from law enforcement work for college at Baylor from 1983 to 1985 to earn her bachelor’s degree, and returned to the patrol ranks.

Through the years, and through the chiefs that ran the department during her tenure, Baggett has seen a lot of change, and a lot of leadership styles.

“They were all absolutely different styles,” she said. “They had their different ways of being a leader and different priorities for the department. You saw some bring in new equipment, some bring in new units, it was a difference between all of them.”

One of the biggest changes the years have brought, she said — how the officers are equipped for their day-to-day duties.

“When I hired on, what we carried on our person was basically our gun, our handcuffs and a night stick,” she said. “Now they’ve got Tazers, they’ve got pepper spray, lasers on their guns ... there’s so much more equipment out there.”

Another change she’s glad to see — and played a role in through the years — is the increase in the number of women in the police ranks, including her daughter, Neely, a patrol officer with the Corsicana Police.

“I’m so proud of her,” Baggett said with a smile. “She had a toss-up — she was either going to be a police officer or a probation officer (like her father) ... she made her own decision. I don’t think we influenced her any way.

“I was (an officer) when she was born, so she’s known some of these officers all her life,” Baggett added.

What advice did she give her daughter when she decided to become a police officer?

“You can make this job anything that you want it to be,” she said. “If you go into it for all the right reasons and you keep that focus, it can be the best career, whether its here or anywhere else.”

The reasons for Baggett herself included helping people — something she’s shared with every officer under her watch.

“I got into this thinking I could help somebody,” Baggett said. “You think sometimes you’re not helping anybody, but that Alzheimer’s patient out there in the street that didn’t know how to get home, or that child in the street that you need to get home, those are the right reasons.”

Baggett said her immediate plans include some domestic travel and spending some time fixing up some houses, but she’ll be back in uniform soon.

She plans to remain a member of the police department as a reserve officer, something she said she got some gentle ribbing over from her doctor.

But, she’s OK with that — she said she’s not quite ready to give it all up.

“I’ve always admired the reserves,” she said.

She’ll spend some time each month riding along with officers, and helping out with special events, like Derrick Days and Freedom Festival.

And perhaps during those ride-alongs, she can continue to help mold new officers and teach them the valuable lesson of public service.

“It’s not always locking people up,” she added. “We have so many out there now that are in it for the right reasons — about 80 percent of what you do is service. You have to remember, you are working for the people ... if they remember that, they’re in it for the right reasons.”

     —————

Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com.

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