Lieutenant Jeff Scarborough sees the time is 7:30 a.m., so he checks his belt: phone, flashlight, badge, firearm, extra ammunition magazine, handcuffs, and walkie talkie, before heading for the Panola County Sheriff’s Office. As he climbs into his unit, he remembers his days as a night shift patrol deputy, when he would not likely even be home at this time after a twelve hour shift, exhausted, ready to peel off his 40-pound rig and get some rest before the next shift or pre-shift call.
At 15 years old, Jeff joined the Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post. Growing up with his dad’s wrecker business, ABC Wreckers, he was familiar with the sheriff, deputy, and radio lingo, and it primed his law enforcement interest. So when his lifelong friend Bryan Murff invited Jeff to join the Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post, he did not hesitate to say yes. As an introduction to law enforcement, the Explorer Post met regularly and also spent time unloading commodity trucks at the former Turner High School. From there, Jeff’s transition into law enforcement was an easy one.
In 1992, Jeff got his jailer’s license while also attending the East Texas Police Academy at Kilgore. Back then, the starting point for any aspiring deputy was working nights at the jail. Because experience is required for Sheriff’s deputies, jailers who were working toward moving up would get off their paid jailer night shift and go on an unpaid patrol shift for experience. After Jeff’s graduation from the Police Academy, his earned experience led him to begin 12 years of 12-hour night shifts as a Panola County Sheriff’s Patrol Deputy.
In 1995, there were only two deputies on shift at a time covering Panola county’s 802 square miles (with over 900 miles of roads), which would easily get you to Nebraska, close to South Dakota, if you left from Carthage and drove north. “All those nights I spent patrolling the Little Super for an hour until they closed,” says Jeff, “remind me that we never know what we prevent; only what we don’t.”
At 8 a.m., before heading to the Sheriff-led morning briefing, Jeff stops by his desk to check service requests that have come in the night. As the Administrative Lieutenant, one of Jeff’s many responsibilities is uniforms, and one of the service requests makes him grin, reminding him of a traffic stop he made once while on patrol. As Jeff was patting the suspect down for weapons, he pulled a small bag of drugs from the suspect’s pocket. The suspect claimed it was not his, so when Jeff questioned that statement since it was in the suspect’s pants pocket, the suspect claimed those were not even his pants!
In his office, which is a former trustee cell block, Jeff oversees his many daily operations. Not only is he qualified as a basic instructor for the police academy, but Jeff is also a firearms instructor. He maintains all the officer training records, keeping up with each officer’s fulfillment of the state-required continuing education hours. Jeff handles storage of all things from information to firearms, ammo, and vehicles. As if storage for tangible equipment were not challenging enough, finding non-hackable digital storage requires extra effort. He is also in charge of purchasing equipment, including vehicles. Jeff has been known to personally buy individual items, like body cameras, to test before investing his limited county budget on the entire department purchase so he can make sure he is investing wisely. “I do the best I can with the budget we have.” says Jeff. “Bulletproof vests have a five-year life, and anything electrical seems outdated yesterday. But as a former patrol officer, it is always my goal to make things better for our patrol deputies. I’m thankful to be in a position to do so.”
After repairing and replacing a couple of body cameras and vehicle dash cameras, Jeff realizes it is noon, but as he starts to head out for lunch, he hears another deputy say, “Come on.” Jeff says, “When you get a call, even on your day off, or your fellow deputy says at lunch time, ‘Let’s go,’ you don’t ask questions. You just go.” And that reminds him of the time he got shot at, on his day off.
He was working at his part-time job on his day off from the sheriff’s office, as so many deputies find it necessary to do, but he got a call about a barricaded subject and was needed at the scene since he was a member of the Special Response Team. In hopes of talking the subject out, Jeff and one of the subject’s family members approached the subject, who was barricaded in a house. The subject then shot at Jeff and missed his head by three inches! After firing 13 more shots that day, stabbing another officer in the arm, and enduring every bit of tear gas the peace officers had, the subject was finally taken into custody. It was a close call that Jeff will always remember…and it was his day off.
Jeff sees it is now 3 p.m. and remembers that some of the deputies are escorting and holding traffic for a funeral that day. “The Panola County Sheriff’s Office is glad to offer this courtesy to our fellow citizens,” he says, “and we will always do that if we can.” It is, though, a sobering reminder that the worst calls they get are death calls. “Any officer will tell you that a death call is the worst call to get. In our duty, we usually see people on the worst days of their lives. We just don’t get called out for happy reasons. As much as we care about every call, we have to stick to the parameters of our job so we aren’t clouded to do our very best, and then move on to do the very best for the next worst day of someone else’s life.” It takes a special kind of person to wear the badge of a Peace Officer.
After spending some time doing maintenance on the dispatch, vehicle, and walkie talkie radios with Reserve Sergeant David Johnson, who Jeff says is the brains behind their radio system, Jeff makes a quick check of some tire prices for those units needing new rubber, and that reminds him of his years as transport officer under the supervision of the late Captain Byron McMillen. He is thankful for the officers he has worked with over the years and for the friends he came up through the ranks with and gets to work with today, like Constable Bryan Murff and Sheriff Kevin Lake.
Since it is now after 6 p.m., Jeff is also thankful to be heading home to his wife, Mechel Hull Scarborough, of Carthage. They were sweethearts for years and then married in 2008 in Scarborough, Maine. Since 2017 marks Jeff’s 25th anniversary with the Panola County Sheriff’s Office, Mechel is always glad when he comes home. She understands her husband’s dedication and service well, because she agrees with his own statement, “You don’t choose law enforcement, it chooses you!”