Russ Merritt got his first taste of police work as a sixth grader.
Merritt was recruited to work as a student crossing guard at school.
"That kept me out of trouble," said Merritt.
Fast forward more than a half century later and Merritt, Detective First Sergeant at North East Police Department, is headed for retirement.
Merritt, 68, has worked at NEPD since June 1995. He came straight to North East after retiring from Baltimore City Police. He started working there December 7, 1974. He's also a Marine Corps veteran, serving for four years during Vietnam.
He will officially retire on December 7 from NEPD.
That's a long time for someone who never expected to pursue a career in law enforcement. He was working at a canning factory in 1974 and got laid off. "I needed a job and Baltimore City needed police," said Merritt. He spent his career in Baltimore in patrol walking the beat in the Eastern District. "I retired in 1995 and that was the same day I started here. The first three weeks working in North East I drove around and said to myself doesn't anyone call the police here," he laughed.
He ended up in North East because his former Baltimore partner had worked for the town and recruited him.
He went from answering 18-20 calls in an eight hour shift in Baltimore, to a department where the focus was proactive policing.
"This was culture shock. I found that people don't hate cops here. When I came here I got to know people. I found out people kind of love us here. When I'm working, I walk around and talk to business people and tourists," he said.
"We are a community police department. We always have been. We care about our community," Merritt said. "We hire according to who we are. We have some good cops here."
He has noticed a change in attitude very recently. "I'm not afraid here. I only wear a vest because you're supposed to," he said.
He also talked about the renaissance of the town. The current, vibrant downtown.
"North East has more people now, more activity and more things going on. But the crime rate hasn't increased. Drug use has increased but that's across the nation. The town is growing and it's going good," he said. "Twenty years ago, we checked every business door to see if it was locked starting at 5 p.m. We don't get a chance to do that now."
He's made many memories. "A girl walked up to me one day and she shook my hand. She said 'Thank you. You changed my life.' She changed from a bad road to a good life. That is one of the best things that happened here. Someone going down the wrong road and came back," he said. "Don't give up on people. A lot of people are worth helping. You just keep trying."
Merritt enjoyed looking back as he moves ahead to retirement in seven weeks.
"I've had a good career. I've met a lot of good people and had a lot of good supervisors. Darrell (Chief Hamilton) is a great chief. He lets you work. But I won't miss working in the snow," he said. "I will miss the brotherhood. I've always thought the hardest thing I will do is leave a brotherhood that I've been part of for 40 years. I won't miss worrying about my fellow officers and more so in the last few years."
The Town of North East will host a party to honor Merritt in December.
"I have no regrets about coming to North East. I would have done the whole 40 (years) here," he said. "Cecil County is my home now. I'm not leaving. The people will still see me in the downtown."
"I'm 68 and I want to relax a little," said Merritt. He's married and has four daughters, four grandchildren, and a great grandchild.
"In December, January, February, and March, I'm not doing anything. It's too cold. I might work part time. But I don't have any plans," he added.