Tampa International Airport Police Detective Kevin Durkin loses count when he tries to tally up all of his family members who work in law enforcement. There are his two uncles who worked for the New York Police Department, five of his brothers, two sisters, brothers-in-law, cousins and so on.
Durkin, who grew up in Long Island and delivered for UPS after high school, actually dreamed of one day working as a mailman in Florida.
“I just thought it seemed like the life,” he said. “Move to Florida, deliver mail, wear shorts.”
But at age 21, his Durkin roots took hold and he found himself moving to Alexandria, Va., and joining the police department there. It wound up being the best decision he ever made, he said, setting forth a long career and many rewards.
“Helping other people – that’s something that doesn’t ever get stale,” Durkin said. “And I can say that with a straight face after 35 years of doing this.”
After a few years in Alexandria, occasionally vacationing in Tampa, Durkin joined the Tampa Police Department in 1982 – “the first Durkin to come to Tampa,” he said. He stayed for 29 years, spending most of that time working as a homicide detective. There, he and his squads worked on more homicide cases than he can estimate – “hundreds and hundreds, I suppose,” he said – and that included the murders of several TPD officers he knew.
Four years ago, Durkin was involved in the largest manhunt in city history after a man shot two TPD officers, David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. After suspect Dontae Morris surrendered and turned himself, Durkin and his partner escorted Morris through a crowd of reporters, an image that was displayed in several newspapers and TV reports.
It was a moment that touched his two sons and moved them to give Durkin one of the best gifts he’s ever received.
Durkin’s son, Kevin – a lover of history like his dad – wrote a long letter to James Leavelle, the former Dallas Police Detective who escorted Lee Harvey Oswald through the basement of police headquarters when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. Kevin enclosed an enlarged photo of the famous photo of Oswald getting shot, with a stunned Leavelle to his left. He also enclosed a photo of his father escorting Morris, and some other photos of Durkin.
“First off, I would like to say thank you for serving our country,” Kevin began the letter, and he went on to describe his “big family of cops” and how his father worked the case of Morris. “I did not even see my dad the whole time they were looking for the suspect. … I thought watching it on the news was like seeing you on the history channel all those times.”
Kevin asked Leavelle, now in his 90s and still living in Texas, if he could possibly autograph the famous Oswald photo. “I hope I am not troubling you too much,” he wrote. “It is just an honor to write to you and tell you how cool I think you are.”
Leavelle sent back the photo with some writing scrawled over the white suit he wore that day in 1963. “To Kevin’s Dad … From one homicide detective to another, Det. James Leavelle.”
Durkin, who left TPD and joined the airport police department shortly after the Morris case, now displays the framed photo on his desk inside the Criminal Investigations office. “Of all of the acknowledgements I’ve gotten in my career,” he said, “this one means the most.”
While serving as a detective at TPA isn’t nearly as intense as his days with TPD, he said he enjoys “the variety of what might walk through the door” and is impressed by how professional, polite and efficient the airport police force is. The level of security here, he said, is remarkable, and the average traveler doesn’t even notice. That’s a good thing, he said.
“We take every issue from a lost bag to criminal mischief very seriously and we contribute to the pristine atmosphere of one of the top airports in the country,” Durkin said. “We’re pretty proud of that.”
Durkin was named the airport’s Officer of the Year in 2013. He feels like he’s still got some good years of detective work left in him, and he enjoys teaching younger officers some of the skills he learned during his 35-year career. There are two younger officers, in particular, that he’s looking forward to teaching the most.
His son Kevin, who is now 25, and his younger son Kyle, who is 23 and works as an Airport Dispatcher at TPA, recently finished their police academy training. They are now applying to be the next Officer Durkins.