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Lester Moore

Officer Lester Moore has been the neighborhood officer dedicated to the Darbo-Worthington community since November.

Lester Moore gets a lot of use out of what he calls his greatest strength as a police officer.

“I’m a talker,” he said as he mimes a chatting mouth with his hand.

As the Madison Police Department’s neighborhood officer dedicated to the East Side’s Darbo-Worthington community, Moore says, a big part of his job is forming relationships with people, which he does through plenty of conversations.

That’s how he gets to know who’s who and what’s happening in Darbo, he says, and what makes him the department’s “eyes and ears” in the neighborhood.

Madison police have 11 neighborhood officers assigned to four-year stints in parts of the city where crime has been a problem. Moore has been in Darbo-Worthington since last fall, working out of a ground-floor office in the state Department of Corrections building on East Washington Avenue.

His windows look out on Worthington Park and a few of the apartments around it, letting Moore keep an eye on a neighborhood he says is full of potential, but has been plagued by drugs and gangs.

Moore, 46, grew up in and around Houston in neighborhoods that had their own problems with crime — one place he lived was known as “Wicked City.” His family made sure he wasn’t in the streets, Moore said, as other kids he knew used and sold drugs.

Moore got his start in law enforcement with a police department in North Topsail Beach, North Carolina, a thin strip of barrier island with eight full-time officers and four part-timers, including Moore.

Madison wasn’t on his radar until he met his wife, the daughter of Wisconsin dairy farmers, Moore said.

He joined Madison police in 1999, starting with the night shift in the department’s North District. Later, he worked as a neighborhood officer on Allied Drive and in drug and gang units.

Much of his career has involved helping young people, whether it’s by trying to get them out of gangs or helping them find jobs and stay on the straight and narrow.

Moore is driven, he says, by the desire to see everyone reach their full potential.

Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

A: Helping kids get their lives together — not just kids, even anybody that needs help. Being a catalyst for that, or connecting them with somebody that can help them because maybe they don’t know. I think that is rewarding — seeing someone doing better in life, being able to get to a better place.

Q: Tell me about the neighborhood where you work.

A: Darbo-Worthington is a great neighborhood. It really is. It’s got challenges, definitely, but we have so much potential here.

A lot of my time is just spent talking to people, developing relationships and finding out what’s going on and how I can help. I think the role of a neighborhood officer is to work with the neighborhood to come up with long-term solutions to problems.

Q: Does your background, coming from neighborhoods that had their own challenges, help you do the job more effectively?

A: I used to think that. I used to think that was something that made it easier for me. And I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that anyone can do it if they want to — I think that you just have to keep it real, put yourself out there, and you’ve got to just start talking to people and getting to know people.

I don’t think it matters where you’re from — what matters is where your heart is and letting people see that in how you talk to them and how you treat them.

Q: Do you think Darbo-Worthington is going in the right direction as a neighborhood?

A: Looking at the resources and the people we’ve got out here, I think it is shifting in a positive direction. I really do.

It’s not because of me — it’s because of (neighborhood organizations) Mentoring Positives, Salvation Army, Joining Forces for Families. … In a neighborhood like this, it’s a multilayered, multilevel approach to moving the neighborhood forward. Everybody’s got to be connected, though.

You’ve got to work together, because you can’t do it by yourself.

— Interview by Nico Savidge

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.