Sgt. Phil Darnell has been a police officer for more than half of his life, and he’s dedicated more than 26 of his 31 years of service to the people of Addison. Broken up by stints as a training officer and another in administration, he’s served in the patrol division for more than 20 years, the last 15 as a sergeant. “I like to be outside and mobile and to interact with people,” said the Dallas native. That’s one reason why his August 2012 assignment to the airport is a natural fit.
A life-long fascination with aviation is another. His interest focuses on the airlines and their big jets, said Sgt. Darnell, and “I’ll talk your ear off about what the airlines fly and do.” But his interest and knowledge doesn’t stop there. Wanting to try something different, after serving with the police departments in Galveston and then the University of North Texas (where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice), he was a U.S. Navy admin officer from 1982-86, completing his service with VF-51, an F-14 fighter squadron.
Spending his last year at sea aboard the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, he saw much of the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. “It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t want to make a career of it.” Traveling is another of his passions, “but water, whether you’re in the Indian Ocean or the Pacific, all looks the same,” he explained. Out of the Navy and wanting to get back in police work, Sgt. Darnell sought a department around his hometown and Addison was hiring. Now permanently assigned to the airport beat, Sgt. Darnell is happily learning about general aviation from the Addison Airport community.
Sgt. Darnell and his son returned to sea, cruising Mexico out of Galveston. They’ve also cruised the Caribbean and Nova Scotia. As his son, now in college, got older, father and son enjoyed “guy time” on shorter cruises. For the past decade or so, London, “the most fascinating city in the world,” has been an annual destination. Armed with an inexpensive unlimited pass for its far reaching public transportation system, each trip explores a different part of the city, often through guided walking tours. Cambridge, Bath, and Stonehenge are but a few of his day trips. Paris was another and taking the Eurostar train under the English Channel “was kind of a mind bender.”
As a sergeant, Darnell leads the department’s Special Enforcement Unit, which includes the motorcycle traffic division, the K9 and public information officers, as well as the airport. His office is on the airport, and Sgt. Darnell spends roughly 90 percent of his time patrolling the airport property, ensuring that all is safe and secure. Officers on patrol in town also make two or three airport checks during their shifts.
Still, officers can’t be everywhere all the time, he continues. When people on the airport need assistance, when they see something or someone out of the ordinary, calling 911 directly is the quickest and easiest way to summon help and have an officer check it out. Telling a supervisor or calling the airport director about something that bears investigation usually means it will be gone by the time someone up the line finally calls 911.
Addison has a comprehensive set of airport ordinances that encompass myriad requirements regarding airport access, security, and safety. Together, they are “for the safety and protection of everyone here,” said Sgt. Darnell, and that since he reported for duty in August, he’s seen no chronic problems with compliance. But there is one area where people could pay closer attention. On the airport, “the speed limit is 15 mph, and people really need to be mindful of their speed at all times.”
Safety is the reason behind the speed. Airplanes maneuver best in the sky, not moving around on the ground, so planes, cars, and trucks must move at a pace that ensures the safety of all of them. Like pilots, drivers must keep their heads on a swivel and look for possible conflicts from all sides. And they must not get distracted by phones or radios or conversations with passengers. And for Sgt. Darnell, that includes his beloved heavy metal music. “Yeah, I know, not what you’d expect from an old man like me, but years back I needed some good jogging music, and now I head-bang with the best of them.”