Inspiring Okeechobee: Bettye Taylor really is a community hero

OKEECHOBEE — With the exception of a few years, Okeechobee Police Department Det. Sgt. Bettye Taylor has lived in Okeechobee her entire life. During her senior year, she moved to Walker County, Ga., and attended high school at Lafayette High, where she was able to graduate early because Okeechobee required more credits than they did. She came back to Okeechobee a few years later and raised her children here.

Mayor Dowling Watford and OPD Major Donald Hagan celebrate with Detective Sergeant Bettye Taylor after she is chosen Okeechobee’s 2019 Community Hero at the Community Hero Business Exchange Luncheon, hosted by The Chamber of Commerce of Okeechobee which was held on Wednesday, July 10, at Indian River State College. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Although she said she always wanted to be a cop, she started out working for a company called Page Concrete, out of Fort Pierce. They were eventually bought out by Tarmac. She began by driving a concrete truck and then went into sales. She spent some time dispatching, driving trucks, cutting steel, hauled blocks and whatever they needed her to do. She worked there for 15 years, and during that time, she was on the city police auxiliary.

She stayed on the auxiliary for 12 years. Though she dreamed of being a police officer, she was raising her children and at that time, she said, the money just was not enough to support them. You couldn’t live on it. You had to work two or three jobs, she said. She waited until most of her children were grown, and she only had one son left at home, and Chief Mobley offered her a position and put her through the academy. She has been there ever since. She went full-time in 1996.

She and her “other half,” Dale Underwood, have what she calls a his, hers, and ours family plus they have had other children stay with them over the years. She is very family-oriented, into kids and grandkids and spends as much time as possible with her family. They have 15 grandchildren and three-great grandchildren with another one on the way. All but four of them live here, so she gets to see them often. In their spare time, they enjoy riding their Harleys as much as possible.

Det. Sgt. Taylor is a member of Kiwanis and her father was commander of the American Legion for years, for as long as she can remember. He and her mother were active members from the time she was a small child, and though they are both deceased, Bettye Taylor maintains her membership, partly to honor their memory but also because she believes in what they do.

She is secretary for the board for Suncoast Mental Health, which is based in Fort Pierce but works in Okeechobee too through our school systems, she said. She participates with Leah Suarez’s Children’s Mental Health System of Care, “and that’s implementing a wraparound system for mental health because when you are trying to work with a family member, there are all kinds of other things that come into play and if you don’t hit all the needs, people drop between the cracks,” she said.

Her official job for the police department is sergeant of the detectives. She also carries a full case load, runs the evidence room, manages the in-house IT (information technology) and coordinates caseload with the Department of Children and Families which is one of the most important to her because of the kids.

“Somebody’s got to be a mouthpiece for them,” she said. She is the LASO which is the security officer for Florida Department of Law Enforcement for their agency and is on the Internet Crimes Against Children team which is all across the nation and is almost like a task force.

She is not officially trained in IT, although she has taken some classes. Most of what she learned has been by leaning over someone else’s shoulder.

“The city is small. It’s our home. I believe we are a needed function in this community, but the money is tight, and everyone is a taxpayer. If I can do something here to keep them from having to pay somebody else to do it, I try to learn to do it, and I know I’ve driven Rick Chartier crazy because if he is working on something, I literally stand right over top of him and watch him so I can figure it out. Not because I’m trying to cost him money, but because if I can save us money that can be utilized for training for the guys then I feel like I’m putting in my part. I’m old-school. I believe in putting in 110%,” she said.

Recently, the Chamber of Commerce of Okeechobee asked for nominations for community heroes, and Det. Sgt. Taylor’s colleagues nominated her. This is the letter they sent on her behalf:

“Bettye Taylor is the truest definition of a community hero. Holding the rank of detective sergeant at the Okeechobee Police Department, she proudly and tirelessly serves her community in numerous ways, going above and beyond her normal duties. As the supervisor of the department’s detective division, she is responsible for supervising and overseeing all aspects of investigatory work performed. The work of her division is vital in seeing that crime victims are made whole and that the perpetrators of those crimes are brought to justice, often the result of complex and protracted investigations. In addition, she has taken on the responsibilities of the agencies IT officer which includes being the liaison for the department’s CAD vendor, its primary IT company, as well as multiple law enforcement databases at both the state and national level, to include the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, RLEX, The Florida and National Crime Information Centers, The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Florida’s Integrated Criminal History System.

“Detective Sgt. Taylor understands that a community’s children are its most precious, impressionable and sometimes most vulnerable class. Coupled with that understanding is a deep sense of duty to protect in her heart so she also serves as the department’s liaison to the Florida Department of Children and Families as well as the Nationwide Internet Crimes Against Children task force, and serves on the governance board for the Children’s Mental Health System of Care for Okeechobee.

“As if all of that were not impressive enough, Det. Sgt. Taylor somehow finds time to be an active member of Kiwanis Club of Okeechobee, The American Legion Post 64 Auxiliary, Friends of Okeechobee Main Street, and holds the position of secretary for the Suncoast Mental Health board of directors.

“Bettye Taylor does all of these things not because she has to, but because she wants to. She does not get paid any extra money, nor does she expect that. She does not receive any accolades or awards, nor does she expect that. She does all of this because she feels she must. Because if she doesn’t, who will? She is the standard that others should be measured against. Bettye Taylor is the truest definition of a community hero.”

After reading that letter, of course, Bettye Taylor was selected as Okeechobee’s Community Hero 2019 because she truly is an inspiring woman.

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