Police Sgt. Danny Leeder ’89 and his son Jesse.
Danny Leeder ’89 spent more than 14 years toiling in the financial services universe, both in New York City and North Carolina. He said he always felt something was missing — and he found it nine years ago in the “fantastic environment” of law enforcement.
Today Danny is the only Jewish member of the 500-officer police force in Durham, NC. He was promoted to sergeant on July 25.
“Sergeant is a coveted position in the department because you get to work with a lot of young officers,” Danny said. “You have a real opportunity to help mold the future of law enforcement. You have a chance to make a difference.”
“I have 11 people that I supervise – two corporals and nine patrol officers,” he continued. “I don’t sit behind a desk; I also go out and patrol the streets… The other night I stopped a car and was able to confiscate stolen narcotics from the driver.” His responsibilities cover the range of day-to-day police operations, from traffic control to drug investigations to emergency calls.
Danny recounted that “in 2007 I decided I needed to make a change — and this was the best change I could have made.” He acknowledged that when he joined the Durham force he was one of the oldest recruits in the police academy, “but I was in very good shape when I went in.”
Durham is a city of some 250,000, and Danny says the police department is understaffed. “It’s a tough battle; it’s a very busy city,” he said, including not only Duke University and the university hospital, but also “the same problems as most major cities, including drugs, violence, gangs and poverty. When I was a corporal I spent most of my time in the Criminal Investigation Division and I spent time in the homicide unit. I got some good experience because, unfortunately, Durham has its fair share of homicides.”
There’s a significant element of chesed in police work, Danny acknowledged. “Durham definitely has its impoverished areas, just like any major city, and on a daily basis we run into people who truly need help. It’s always a good feeling as a police officer to be able to help people in need. Obviously we don’t do it for the money, and we don’t do it for the glory.”
He noted that “growing up, my parents and grandparents instilled in me the importance of helping others.”
Danny acknowledged that there are feelings of “great frustration in law enforcement for how we are being portrayed. Based on statistically very few events, we are being portrayed in a very negative light. Part of my job is to motivate my officers — in spite of what is being said, and the obvious dangers — to do their job to the best of their ability, and to try to enjoy what they do.”
He added that “it’s easier for me; I switched careers. And I can definitely tell them you have to love what you do.”
Danny observed that over a nine-year police career in Durham, he has been the only Jew in the department. “I’ve dealt with a lot of people who never met a Jewish person before,” he said. “I had to basically show them that their stereotypes were really just that.”
“Food plays a big role,” he continued. “I bring in traditional foods for everyone. They have expectations on Chanukah and Pesach.” He also is a resource for cultural explanations. “A couple of years ago there was a call about a disturbance at a shul in Durham on Shabbat. Later I had to explain to the officers about the request not to respond with lights and sirens.”
Durham is part of North Carolina’s so-called Triangle, named for the major research universities in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh. The Jewish community in the region has been growing in recent years, Danny said, including students and retirees. Danny and his wife Tara and their four children reside in Apex, a suburb near Raleigh and Durham.