In July of 1990, a twenty-five year old musician, father, and farmer took his opportunity to serve his community with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office. Offered the position of jail deputy by former Sheriff, Harold Harris, James Snead embraced his career change and poured his heart and soul into his newly found passion for law enforcement.
After beginning his career, Snead spent the next twenty-one years climbing through the ranks at the Sheriffs office. “I went to law enforcement basic road school in January of 1994 and after graduating in June, was assigned to patrol. In 2001 former Sheriff Lawrence Clary promoted me to Sergeant. I was promoted to Lieutenant by former Sheriff, Danny Fox in 2004. With this promotion I became responsible for day-to-day operations of the uniformed patrol unit. In 2006 I was raised to the position of Captain of the law enforcement division of the department, which included patrol units, investigations, and courtroom security. In August of 2008 I was selected by Sheriff Fox to be his Chief Deputy upon the retirement of Major George “Sport” Newcomb. I held that position until December 31, 2011. I will finish my career in courtroom security as a deputy,” said Snead.
The life of a law enforcement officer can be challenging. According to Mr. Snead, being a deputy means not knowing from one minute to the next what you will be doing. “Unlike most jobs where you pretty much know what you will be doing today, tomorrow, and the after that, as a deputy, you can be serving a civil paper one minute and driving in excess of 100 miles per hour trying to get to a call where someone could be in serious danger. It’s a very unpredictable career.”
James never thought twice about his choice of career and believes that most law enforcement is, or used to be, common sense. “The basic principle is good and bad, right and wrong. The job is more difficult now than it used to be because, in my opinion, you deal with a lot of individuals that were taught to believe that there are no consequences for their actions when doing something illegal.” With that being said, Snead describes his career as “fun”, adding “if you enjoy what you are doing you will never have to work a day in your life. I grew up on a tobacco farm; I know what hard work is. Being a deputy was never hard work. There were long days and nights, stressful situations, and sometimes fear, but it never felt like work.”
Times have changed for police officers since Snead began his career in 1990. At the time deputies were equipped with a car, a Motorola two-channel radio, a revolver with 18 bullets, a shotgun, a pair of handcuffs, and a short-range walkie-talkie. “Now a deputy is issued a radio, a car camera, a mobile data terminal, body camera, cell phone, semi-auto pistol, a patrol rifle, a taser, and a shotgun. The walkie-talkies now will work about anywhere in the county and all of the first responders can communicate with each other on the new radio system.”
With a career spanning over 30 years, there are sure to be a few memorable moments and experiences. One of the most interesting situations that stands out in Deputy Snead’s memory happened early in his career. “My first homicide was a couple of months after I became a deputy. We didn’t have 24-hour coverage at the time and I was the first deputy to sign on this particular morning. As soon as I signed on duty dispatch gave me a call of a person deceased in a parking lot and later discovered a second person deceased in the woods nearby; a terrible situation for a new deputy.”
The most memorable event of his career occurred during his time as Chief Deputy when he sat with members of the Secret Service to plan for President Barack Obama’s visit to Bluestone High School.
“My proudest moment as a deputy also came during my years as Chief Deputy. The Sheriff’s office became a fully accredited agency through the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission. We started the process in 2008 and took our time to make sure that we had everything right. Through the hard work of the entire department, we received our accreditation in 2011 at a ceremony in New Kent County,” said Snead.
When asked how he felt about the current “Defund the Police” movement James answered, “Oh no, a political question. I’ll answer by saying you get what you pay for. Police agencies need to be prepared for what might happen. I attended a school at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri where an instructor used a line that I had never heard and it served me well during my career. That saying was, “Plan for failure”. In other words, if you just plan for everything to go right, you won’t be prepared when it doesn’t.”
“The most important part of my day to day duties was coming home to my family at the end of my shift. That should always be your first priority as a law enforcement officer.” James has been married to his wife, Sharon since May of 2017. He has two children from a previous marriage, Jami and Brian Snead, and two grandchildren, Killian and Lochlan. With his marriage to Sharon he gained four stepchildren; Joey King, Brittany Harris, Cody Spillane, and Tyler Spillane along with three step-grandchildren; Tyler, Jaxon, and Issy.
“I know it sounds cliché, but for me the most rewarding part of the job was knowing that I helped someone. From helping a person find their car in a parking lot to preventing an individual from being injured or killed at the hands of another. In today’s world it is sad that all of the attention is put on what a very small number of law enforcement officers do wrong and no attention on the good that the rest of us do.” He continued, “I feel that I did the best I could in my career. I’m sure that I have made some people happy and some not so much but I have always tried to be fair and treat everyone the way I would expect to be treated.”
James has been playing the Bass Guitar since he was 12 years old. After retiring he plans to continue playing music with his band and spending time with his family. “I always wanted to a ‘Rock star’ so I guess I’ll just settle for being a bass player.”
“To all of the deputies and officers that came before me, thank you for all of the lessons and knowledge that was passed down to me. This is not a job that you can jump into with no experienced guidance.