When Darren Exum used to play cops and robbers as a kid, he always played the cop.
It’s something his siblings still tease him about today, especially since he grew up to become a Buffalo police officer.
“I knew I wanted to be a cop since I was a kid,” he said.
But Exum is more than a cop.
He’s a community volunteer, a mentor to young people – especially boys – and, by many accounts, a Good Samaritan.
He is a leader in the Judges Row Block Club in the Kensington-Eggert area.
He has volunteered with a local Cub Scout pack.
And he repairs bicycles and donates them to kids at Christmas and on their birthdays.
On one occasion, a little boy ran up and down Minnesota Avenue after Exum gave him a bike. The boy said it was the best time of his life, which made the veteran police officer very emotional.
“I didn’t know I was that sensitive. I had to sit in the car and cut the music up,” Exum said.
Exum has a reputation for having a calming influence that gets noticed on the job and in the community. Last year, for instance, he was recommended to organizers of Cub Scout Pack 404, which has about 100 boys. The group couldn’t get parents to help so they reached out to the community for volunteers, said Cub Master Deborah Moye.
Exum showed up faithfully every week to mentor the boys and provide adult supervision. Once he arrived in his uniform and passed out police stickers to the boys.
“He was a great role model. He always talked to them in a calm way, and they responded well to him,” said Andrew Prinzing, assistant principal of asset development at Community Charter School on Edison Avenue, where the program is run for boys 6- to 11-years-old.
Even though he is not volunteering with the organization this year, Exum has continued his mentoring relationships with the boys. When he sees them on the street, he stops to talk to them often about being in the “wrong place at the wrong time and hanging around the wrong people.”
He dispensed the same advice to his son when he was growing up, and after his 2006 conviction for armed robbery at a local restaurant, a mistake his son has learned from, Exum said.
“It’s the same thing I try to teach the kids I deal with: How quickly things will change in a blink of an eye,” he said.
Exum also has a sense of civic responsibility as a leader who has represented his street in the Judges Row Block Club on the East side for the past three years. He helps beautify the neighborhood, helps the group address crime issues, and he’s a big help during National Night Out, assisting residents set up and serve food, said Block Club President Tony Blackmon.
“He’s a good resident. He’s a good officer and a good neighbor,” Blackmon said.
Earlier this year, Chief Kimberly Beaty of the Northeast District – where Exum is stationed – named him the district’s Officer of the Year.
And because of his “calming effect” on people, she recommended him to the Western New York Police Helpline to become a police peer member, a volunteer position that calls for Exum to counsel distressed law enforcement officers on the phone.
Even with all of that on his plate, Exum is not through giving back. He’s thinking about starting his own youth mentoring organization. His goal: to give kids someone to talk to about the pressures they face.