As a 19-year-old Appalachian State University student Jay Jackson decided he wanted to be in law enforcement. Studying Criminal Justice, Jackson was offered an internship with the Catawba County Sheriff's Department and that affirmed his desires thus his career path was set for the next 30 years.
He began his career as an Agent with NC Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) assigned to the Winston-Salem office and then on the Special Operations Team, which focused on undercover drug work and SWAT operations.
Jackson left ALE in August 2006 to work with the Hickory Police Department. He left Hickory in January 2009 to become Police Chief in Forest City.
Though the profession is radically different today than when Jackson started his career, he is proud of his career, the friends he has made along the way and the difference he has made in the lives of people.
"My legacy and specifically to Forest City Police Department is that I have had a little part in developing our staff for the future. I am so very proud of their personal and professional accomplishments since I have been here," Jackson said. He said the police officers and staff are by "far our greatest asset. I am excited to see what the future holds for them. I will miss them all greatly."
Protecting the people and preparing his department to do that in the most professional way possible, was always Jackson's goal.
Jackson said he knew early on he wanted to have the best educated law enforcement officers and have the most modern equipment and vehicles possible.
When he came to Forest City Police Department, Jackson focused his efforts on developing his employees for the high stress and ever-changing environment in police work and to make sure officers had the necessary equipment to best serve our citizens.
He has also advocated for his officers to receive more training and professional development while serving in the town Forest City.
"I have wanted them to aspire the best they can be,"Jackson said.
"To succeed, I know officers have to give their best and get the best training," Jackson.
Not long after coming to Forest City, Jackson became involved in the Leadership Rutherford class where he was introduced to other professionals in the county and businesses that would play vital roles in his job as Police Chief.
Jackson's Leadership Rutherford class hosted the first Leader of the Pack 5K race as a team project. After three years, the race was handed over to the Rutherford County Schools as a fundraiser for the Backpack Program.
In his long police career, Jackson dodged three bullets fired at him while on a drug bust scene years ago in Central North Carolina. He has dealt with the tragedies of murder and other grim situations. He has seen the worst of times on the job.
"They can make a lasting impact," he said. Jackson has tried not to take the work home.
In another county on Christmas Eve several years ago, Jackson recalls a senior citizen couple leaving Midnight Mass at the town's Catholic Church. As they were crossing the road, a young woman on her way to work struck the couple with her vehicle.
"Her mistake that night was not clearing off the windshield. She did not see them," Jackson said. One person died at the scene and the other was taken to the hospital.
Jackson spent much of the evening and Christmas morning dealing with the horror and aftermath of the tragedy.
"But I had a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old at home. They were ready for Santa. They wanted 'happy'," he said.
"In so many situations you know you're going to take that home with you," Jackson said.
Police work has always been stressful but in today's world it is even more so.
"So much of the news that makes the papers is the bad news and the negativism for police officers," he said.
"There is such a lack of trust in the police profession," he said.
There are also positives. He recalled a young girl's bicycle was stolen just before Christmas in Forest City.
"Sgt. (Shawn) Keeter investigated and there was a good outcome as officers bought the little girl a new bicycle," Jackson said.
"I see the positive impact officers have on peoples lives but they are not sensationalized in the media as they should be. I can't count the times in my career where I have seen officers give their time and money to someone in need," he said.
There have been other positives on and off the job.
Off the job, Jackson has always been interested in helping children and young people who need positive mentoring. He has coached his own two sons' sports teams and community football teams and baseball teams.
"It was also a way to give back to the community," Jackson said.
He also coached varsity football and baseball at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy.
Jackson said some of the boys and girls he has mentored in sports have had positive outcomes and others didn't.
It is disturbing to take a young person under your wing and coach him only to find out later the person returned to the dark side of life.
"But you just cannot not try," he said.
The most radical changes in law enforcement over the years has been technology.
"If you would have told me 30 years ago that I've have a device on me that records everything, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.
The computers in police vehicles and computers now at every desk in the office are everyone's finger tips and have been life saving for officers.
Jackson said he would have never thought this world would be dealing with school shootings.
"Who knows why people choose the path they do?" he said.
While coaching he utilized his hobby of photography and has shared his sports pictures with the community, schools and families.
Jay and his wife Amy, an Exceptional Children's Teacher in the Rutherford County Schools, have two sons, Zane and Ethan. Zane is going to the Army and son Ethan is in college.
"Police work affects the family. Where there is a terrible tragedy, it stays with the officer and yet they also have a family at home," he said.
Jackson said he isn't sure where he and his wife Amy will relocate but they plan to move from the area. She has had several teaching opportunities in the Carolinas some along coast.
Jackson said he'll also do some type of police work.
The couple plan to travel, enjoy hiking and the outdoors.
"We've always been family oriented. I look forward to doing this more," he said. "We want to stay in shape and enjoy outdoors," he said.
Looking back on the past years, Jackson said he wished he could have spent more time with his wife and sons. The nature of the job took him away from family some weekends and holidays.
As Jackson leaves Forest City and the area, he encourages youth to consider joining the police profession. "I have been honored to serve with some of the finest people one could have the fortune of working with. I promise the rewards in police work will far out weigh the challenges," he said.
Among his concerns as a police executive is a downward trend of youth wanting to enter a law enforcement career because of the negativity of the profession from television, newspapers, radio and internet.
"In those times I have reflected on the words of the late President Theodore Roosevelt, 'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Jackson believes there needs to be a little less critics and more of those who want to join hands and volunteer for police service to be a part of our future growth within law enforcement. It's easy to be a critic."
"Those who volunteer for service are the difference makers," he added.