As a female trailblazer with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and as a community volunteer, Patti Lumpkin has served Ocala for more than 45 years and counting.
Patti Lumpkin’s 35-year career of firsts with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) began with a newspaper article.
“The sheriff’s office was looking for women interested in becoming part of a women’s volunteer auxiliary group,” recalls Lumpkin, who grew up just north of Ocala in Anthony. “I thought that sounded interesting, so I went to the meeting. It was 1974 and there weren’t any women with the sheriff’s office. What they needed were women to help with the female inmates.”
Lumpkin did indeed become part of that women’s volunteer auxiliary group and instantly liked the law enforcement work, so much so that within a year she was a full-time secretary in the MCSO Criminal Investigation Division. By the end of 1975, she had graduated from the Officer Recruit Academy at Central Florida Community College (now the College of Central Florida) and became the MCSO’s first female patrol deputy.
Of her years as a patrol deputy, Lumpkin says, “I definitely had to prove that I could do the job and take care of myself with my fellow deputies. Actually, they came around quicker than the public did when it came to accepting a woman in a job people thought should just be for men.”
While the public was adjusting, Lumpkin just kept racking up a string of firsts, including first female detective with the MCSO Criminal Investigation Division (1980); first female deputy hostage/crisis negotiator (1984); first female sergeant and she supervised the Drug Task Force (1987); first female lieutenant serving as head of the Major Crimes Unit (1993); first female captain while becoming the supervisor of the Detective Bureau (1996); first female major (1998); first MCSO female deputy to be invited to the FBI Command School for Officers (1999); and first female bureau chief/MCSO Youth & Community Service Bureau (2000).
With the latter, Lumpkin supervised 30 full-time employees, 22 deputies and 1,500 volunteers. Important programs implemented under her watch include Crisis Intervention Services, Internet Crimes Against Children, Victims Services, Seniors At Risk Assistance, and D.A.R.E., a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teach children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and to live productive drug- and violence-free lives.
Lumpkin’s stint with the MCSO Criminal Investigation Division involved undercover drug work. Standing at 5-foot-3 and with blue eyes and strawberry blond hair, Lumpkin was not exactly Hollywood casting material for an undercover drug detective. But she was very good at playing the part and had a significant role in numerous drug operations.
“The drug business is just that, a business,” explains Lumpkin. “The number one thing with the drug dealers is their greed, and that blinds them. That’s what I used to my advantage.”
Lumpkin’s undercover work was also her most dangerous, once getting her caught in a shootout between rival drug dealers. She escaped unscathed, without ever firing her weapon. In fact, Lumpkin got through her entire law enforcement career without ever having to fire her gun.
“When you’re working undercover, you learn to talk yourself into situations and then talk yourself out of them,” Lumpkin notes with a chuckle. “I was always good at that. My mother says I started talking at 10 months and never shut up after that.”
But all good things must come to an end and Lumpkin retired from the MCSO in 2010.
“I worked all through my last shift on my last day. I loved my job,” she shares, “and I hope that I made a difference.”
When asked how she adjusted to being retired from MCSO, she admits, “I missed it a lot. It took a while for me to get used to not being around all that action and my pager not going off. But life changes and goes on, and so do we.”
Even before her retirement, she was already involved in various community organizations, including Project Hope of Marion County.
“I was still with the sheriff’s office when I became a founding board member of Project Hope in 2007,” says Lumpkin. “The other founding members were Don Alvarez, Father Pat Sheedy and Van Akin. I was president of the board for 15 years.”
Project Hope of Marion County is a nonprofit organization that provides solutions for homeless women and their dependent children. Mothers and their children are offered safe housing in the agency’s apartment complex. Services such as parenting and job skills, budgeting and education are available, as is a food pantry and clothes closet.
“The most important thing is that children need to know they have a safe place to live and a good school to go to,” notes Lumpkin, who while still on the Project Hope board is not as hands-on as in the early years. “We have a great group of people running the organization now. I’m still available as needed and still enjoy dropping by to visit.”
Lumpkin, who has many cats and two dogs, is a longtime active board member with the Humane Society of Marion County and Community With a Heart. She also volunteers as needed with the Marion County Children’s Alliance.
“I’ve never had hobbies. While I do enjoy spending time outside in my big backyard, I’m not into gardening since I just end up with dead plants,” says Lumpkin, 79, with a laugh. “But I’ve always believed in being part of my community and helping out as much as possible. We’re all in this together and we should help each other out. You just never know how much of a difference you can make in someone’s life.” OS