TAMPA — Leon Paige is the kind of guy who sort of reminds you of your father, or the men of old who had unique skills and were jacks of all trades, and mastered most of them.
He has a charming smile with a gentle touch of grace to go along with the skills of a craftsman and the creativity of an artist. He possess the financial skills of an accountant, the mechanical skills to do auto repair, yet gentle enough to appeal to babies and children while being threatening enough to handle the toughest of criminals.
“I love people and I have been fortunate to have met some good people in my life who taught me some great life lessons,” said Paige, who is affectionately known as Lush. “I was raised to respect people, appreciate what they do for you and work hard because nothing in life is free.”
A St. Pete native, Paige attended St. Petersburg High School where he graduated in 1972. After high school, he joined the army, where he spent six years at Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax, Va., and overseas in Germany.
After a tour of active duty, he did a stint in the army reserves as a military policeman and attended the University of South Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology. While at USF, he served as the student government off-campus housing director as well as the president of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
“I had a great time at USF. Some of the relationships that I formed at school are ones that I maintain today. The brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi are second-to-none. We grew together, fellowshipped together, served mankind together, and that’s what life is all about,” said Paige. “In addition to the fraternity, I met people who would become professional colleagues and lifelong friends. Those are great memories.”
Paige followed the career path that he began in the army by joining the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff, where he remained for 30 years. He excelled on patrol and was soon placed on specialty squads where he continued to receive recognition for tactical assignments, DUI enforcement and drug investigations.
Upon promotion to a detective within the narcotics unit, Paige was assigned to many high-profile investigations and selected as a member of several federal task force initiatives including DEA, FBI, ICE, U.S. Customs and the Secret Service, where he would earn recognition and court certification as an expert investigator.
He went on to be recognized for his contributions in the Florida Narcotic Officers Association, which named him “Officer of the Year” in 1981. Paige eventually assumed additional responsibilities as a supervisor in the patrol area, and was recognized by the Hillsborough County Black Advisory Council in 1988 as the “Deputy of the Year.”
Paige went on to supervise the specialty units, was promoted to corporal and then sergeant, where he was responsible for enforcement actions in a majority of Hillsborough County.
He also obtained a master’s degree in public administration from Troy University in 2001 and went on to earn the rank of lieutenant in 2008.
Paige was assigned as the Night Shift Commander of District 1 command, which encompasses mid and western Hillsborough County, and eventually was chosen to attend the Southern Police Institute’s Command Officer School, located at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. Completing training and following with the Graduate Module, Paige graduated with honors, earning duel certificates.
He returned to his position of command within District 1 and soon was reassigned as the Intelligence Operations Bureau Commander of the Special Investigations Division. In this assignment, his responsibilities included oversight of various countywide investigative units that involved narcotics, dignitary protection and the management of investigative funds for the entire Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, to name a few.
Before his retirement in the February 2016, he went on to be the District II Night Shift Commander.
“What I love about the job is when you do something for people, they appreciate you,” said Paige.
One instance was when there were five rapes in an area in the span of five or six days. The people in that neighborhood were terrified, but they were able to catch the perpetrator and brought peace back to the community.
“They were so thankful. My reward was the satisfaction of helping people,” stated Paige. “This makes all the challenges and trouble worthwhile.”
Throughout his career, Paige earned some of the sheriff’s office and other organizations highest awards and recognitions. He took home the Sheriff’s Office Medal of Distinguished Service, the Meritorious Service Award, two Life-Saving Awards and many, many more.
Now retired from active duty, Paige continues to serve the citizens of Hillsborough County as a Reserve Deputy and as a board member of the University Area Community Development Center and the Fraternal Order of Police number 108.
So, how does Leon handle being retired?
“I have a pretty good life. I’m now trying to learn how to chase the little ball around the golf course, and I ride my Harley,” said Paige, who also finds the time to bowl a few days a week and write poetry and short stories.
During all of his schooling and promotions on the job, Paige managed to have a family, which includes five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“They are sure to take up my time,” finished Paige.
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