WALKER — More than 30 years ago, Marliam Lee left a good-paying job as a millwright for job that paid far less.
He became a police officer.
Earlier this month, the Walker Board of Aldermen selected Lee as interim police chief.
Lee said that since becoming an officer, he’s never seriously considered another job.
“I found my niche,” he said. “To this day I get up in the morning, and I enjoy coming to work.”
It started with Lee becoming a volunteer firefighter and being around police officers.
The invitation of a Walker officer to ride with him during a shift led to Lee becoming a reserve officer. Within a year he decided that police work was what he wanted.
“I had to take a large pay cut,” Lee said, smiling at the memory of the paltry $230 on his two-week pay checks.
“Nobody can become a police officer with the idea of getting rich,” he said, adding that the rewards come in other ways.
At first, excitement drew him to the profession. There were chases and major crimes, but Lee said the reasons gradually changed.
He said he realized that through his work he could “make a difference, and that’s a good feeling.”
Making a difference can be through “putting a bad guy in jail,” or can come in other ways.
One of those was something he learned from longtime Police Chief Elton Burns, who advised: “Help those who are willing to help themselves.”
It also comes from helping those who have been wronged and those who don’t have the ability to help themselves, Lee said.
Lee’s love of motorcycles, which started even before he got one at age 13, hasn’t hurt his love of being a police officer. He spent a number of years as a motorcycle officer in Walker.
He was even among 160 motorcycle officers from 33 states who escorted 1,800 other motorcyclists to the Sept. 11, 2001, crash sites for ceremonies last year.
Beside tinkering with bikes, he also loves to read, especially about science and technology, which may not be surprising, since his father was a science teacher before becoming a principal at Walker Elementary School.
Lee’s mother was also a Livingston Parish teacher.
After Burns retired as Walker police chief, Lee narrowly missed becoming chief.
A four-man race was narrowed to two, and Lee lost a tight election to Hunter Grimes in 2004.
Lee said the campaign didn’t stop the two from working well together. Lee eventually became assistant chief under Grimes, who recommended Lee for the interim post when Grimes resigned to take a job with the State Police earlier this month.
The department has 16 full-time officers, five part-time officers and five reserve officers.
Major crimes aren’t a widespread problem in Walker, but Lee said he wants to see the force continue to grow with the population in order to keep Walker a safe place to live.
Asked about things he advises new officers, Lee said he tells them to “show understanding” to people who need an officer’s help.
Even though officers may handle the same type of cases on a daily basis, it’s probably the first time this particular person has been a victim, Lee said.
“It means a lot if you don’t just treat them as another call. Let them see that you are genuinely concerned.”
He said he tells new officers that being a police officer is a “good job for people who like to help others.
“It’s got to come from within,” Lee said.
He also tells them to be aware it’s not a job that will make them rich.