Community Spotlight- Officer Darren Derby, Downtown Pittsfield, MA

The Berkshires are best known for their beautiful views and their vibrant visual and performing arts scene, but they are also home to some of the most dedicated and caring professionals and volunteers who are making a tremendous impact in their communities. One such person is Officer Darren Derby of the Pittsfield Police Department. Officer Derby performs his job with the utmost respect and compassion and has developed a rapport with all members of our community. He is a “celebrity” with our youth and a mentor to individuals with disabilities. You may have even heard of him yourself. Numerous times, he has been covered by media outlets who have followed his trail of kindness, sensitivity, and humanity. It is important to continue to celebrate and support the good work that Officer Derby does every single day in our community, and whether or not you are familiar with his contributions, please take the time to learn more about all that he is involved with. Who knows, you may even come away feeling inspired to initiate change and goodwill in our community yourself.

The broadest way that Officer Derby is reaching out to our community is through social media. His Facebook and Instagram pages are full of positive and inspiring videos and images whose stars are the members of our own community. Inspired by the social media pages of Officer Tommy Norman of North Little Rock, Arkansas, Officer Derby has brought to light the amazing individuals that are in our community including our local police force.

Derby remarks, “It’s an eye opener to see the positivity that can come out of social media. It’s difficult to allow others to see who we are (as police officers) and how we do our job…. (The use of social media really) has nothing to do with us, but (it’s about) the community we serve and making the people who we interact with feel important and not forgotten about.”

Officer Derby also uses the social media platform to promote initiatives he is working on with the Pittsfield Police Department.

#hoopsnotcrime was started last April by a police officer in Gainesville, Florida with an assist by Shaquille O’Neal. Officer Derby has brought this initiative to Pittsfield in a big way, having helped put 46 basketball hoops on the street since last April. Every single hoop has been donated by generous individuals, families, or businesses in Berkshire County, and this program continues to accept donations.

Officer Derby also leads the Pittsfield PD initiative #coneswithacop which was held earlier this year at the Common on First Street with the Crispy Kones trailer, as well as #OperationCopsicle. 2017 marked the 2nd annual #OperationCopsicle in Pittsfield where police officers took over an ice cream truck supplied with ice cream purchased by Haddad Motors and served 450 children. Officer Derby hopes to be able to help the Pittsfield PD acquire their own ice cream truck in the future.

Although less glamourous, one of the major ways that Officer Derby impacts the children in our community is by keeping snacks in the back of his cruiser. These snacks are available to any child who wants them and are all supplied by donations. Derby remarks, “(these are) lasting relationships that you are creating by just getting those kids running to your cruiser… (they are learning) to approach the police in a good way on good terms”.

Officer Derby hasn’t had to buy a snack himself since the first week he started keeping the snacks in the back of his cruiser. Donations have been steadily coming in. “If it wasn’t for social media and that platform, people wouldn’t know that this existed…. You are giving them an option on how to give back to the community”.

In fact, Officer Derby receives many anonymous donations. “I’ll find a gift card in my mailbox; sometimes it just says, ‘hey thanks for what you do, from anonymous’, which really means a lot because you know that there are people that are following you. You’ve touched them, and you’ve inspired them (to give back)”.

“Sometimes I don’t have snacks, and I feel like I’ve let the kids down. At the same time, they know that not every single time you are going to have snacks, but they are still going to come running to your car”.

It is his relationship to the youth of our community that Officer Derby feels strongest about.

We asked him what is his favorite place in Pittsfield. “Within the walls of the elementary schools”, he says, “those are the kids you can change…. You’re there giving them hope, giving them direction, encouragement (as well as to) be silly with them (and) to get them to laugh…. To talk about dipping their carrot in their apple sauce (and how good it tastes)”.

“(You) start in Pre-K and by the time they’re in 5th grade, you hope that whatever you’ve taught them just by having that simple, simple interaction with them in school, that they make good choices not bad choices… I’ve seen some remarkable turn arounds with kids just by having a simple conversation with them every time you go in there”.

Another passion project for Officer Derby is his work as the Berkshire County Law Enforcement Torch Run Coordinator. His job is to coordinate all of the local awareness and fundraising campaigns for the Special Olympics in Berkshire County, which consists of 6 major community events, raising over $100,000 in a 12-month calendar year. He and his fellow officers can also be found volunteering at the Special Olympics Summer Games at Monument Mountain High School, the Summer Games in Boston, and the Winter Games in Worcester, MA.

One of these major fundraising events will be coming up on November 25th, 2017. The Berkshire “Poultry Plunge” will be held at Burbank Park on Onota Lake for those brave enough to take a dip! And new this year, Super Plungers who fundraise $1,000 will take the plunge 24 times in 24 hours!

Pittsfield’s “Cop on Top” event will be held December 2nd through December 3rd, 2017 at the Pittsfield Walmart. Over 80 members of Berkshire County law enforcement, including Officer Derby, will volunteer over this 36-hour period to eat and sleep on the roof of Walmart; all to raise awareness and funds for our local Special Olympics athletes!

Stay tuned for the announcement of this year’s annual “Holiday Sweater Fun Run 5K”, and next summer for the annual “Midnight Run With The Cops- Copstacle Fun Run and Walk” as well as “Glow Ball for Special Olympics” at Baker’s Golf Center.

All events are open to the community. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/letrberkshire/

 

We asked Officer Derby what motivates him to do all that he does for our community. His answer was simple, “I was brought up by my parents and my grandparents to treat others as though you would want to be treated.… Life is really about helping others…. If we could all just kind of smile at one another and… even if it’s five minutes… lend a hand to help thy neighbor, this world would be a better place.”

It is important to note that Officer Derby didn’t become the officer we see today overnight. In his fourteenth year on the job, he says he started to wonder how we could as a community make changes. After spending the first five years of his career at the jail, and the next nine at the Pittsfield PD, he wanted to rejuvenate his career. “The position that I wanted to take was just to be the good person that people believe that we should be”. He started following and communicating with other officers from around the country on the social media platform, and taught himself a new way of policing. The result is the Officer Darren Derby we see today in our community and on social media, now in his 17th year on the job.

“The response that I’ve gotten from the community here is way too strong (to pick up and move). I couldn’t give up on what we started because it isn’t finished…. We can be the showcase for many communities similar to our size… by introducing social media and being open and transparent about how we police.”

“I enjoy my job, I enjoy my career, (and) I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in the next 17 years”.

 

If you would like to find out more information about Officer Darren Derby or to make a donation, please reach out to him via social media on Facebook or Instagram. You may also call the Pittsfield Police Station and ask for his extension.

 

Contact contributor Kimberly Cortes-Gritman at intern2@downtownpittsfield.com

Kimberly is a Downtown Coordinator and Lead Coordinator of First Fridays Artswalk.