Randy Bynum, 55, DeKalb County’s first-ever school resource officer and first African-American police chief, is retiring after 25 years with the Fort Payne Police Department.
Bynum worked seven years for the Alabama Forestry Commission. Warned of impending layoffs in May 1995, he walked across the street to then-FPPD Chief David Walker’s office and asked for a job.
“If you’d asked me 26 years ago if I was going to be a police officer, I would have said ‘absolutely not.’ Being a police officer was not something I wanted to do. I had some friends who worked there and tried to get me to join the department,” Bynum said. “[Chief Walker] asked me if I was serious. I said, ‘Yes, sir. I am. I can’t be without a job.’ That same week, he hired me.”
He grew to love the job.
“To watch Fort Payne grow from where we were... We still have a long way to go, but we are a good community and have a lot to be thankful for,” Bynum said.
Born and raised here, the 1983 graduate of Fort Payne High School was a popular choice to succeed Walker. He credits this to the way he and his three siblings were raised by his parents, Rob and Olivia.
“Mom and dad taught us to be upstanding,” he said. “They taught us right from wrong, and most everyone in Fort Payne knows our family. They set a great foundation. It earned respect. Outside of police work, my proudest accomplishment has been watching my son A.J. grow up.”
An opportunity opened in 1998 to become the county’s first school resource officer at Fort Payne High School. He called those seven years “absolutely the best years of my life.”
“If [the kids] had somebody to listen to them, they would tell you everything under the sun,” he said. “It was that gap between the police department and a human being. You can learn a lot about their family lives. Even the kids who got in trouble and I put in jail, they have come back and said that was probably the best thing that could have happened to them. None of them have been mad. They thank me because of how I treated them.”
Bynum served as acting chief for two years before getting promoted to police chief in 2010. He said he never really dwelled on the significance of being the city’s first black police chief.
“I followed somebody like Bob Parker, who was police chief for years. Everybody looked up to him when we were kids because he treated everybody good, always had a smile on his face. And then I followed [Walker], the smartest man I knew in law enforcement,” he said.
He became a certified police chief through training at Jacksonville State University.
“I’m proud knowing that every night, nobody got badly hurt, and everybody went home to their families during the 10 years I was in charge. I never had to visit a wife or husband to give that notification that their spouse had been significantly hurt or killed. There’s about 35 people that a police chief has to make decisions for. You’ve got to look out for the whole flock,” he said.
Bynum thanked former Mayor Bill Jordan, former City Council President Richard Pridmore, current Council member Johnny Eberhart, Council member Walter Watson and former City Clerk Jim McGee for their early support. He called City Superintendent Jim Cunningham “a mentor who has helped me in so many ways he doesn’t even know. They took a chance on a guy from Fort Payne. I think, overall, it’s worked pretty well.”
Bynum’s exit from the FPPD has been low key. His attention now turns to plans like remodeling his home. He’s also looking for a part-time job to keep him busy.
“I’m just a common person,” he said. “I’m just a person who has tried to do a good job and had the opportunity of a lifetime to do something I never thought I would be able to do. I didn’t have a big emotional goodbye at work. People say you know when it’s time. I didn’t pray to God to ask him… I think I took it to God and said ‘I think it’s time for me to move on and let somebody else have this.’ And never had the first moment of regret.”