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Fort Wayne officer uses his life experiences to bring community together

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) - A Fort Wayne officer is using his life experiences to help bring the community together.

During the downtown protests in late May and early June in Fort Wayne, officers with the Fort Wayne Police Department gathered in front of the Allen County Courthouse to talk with protesters.

However, there was one officer who was getting a lot of attention.

Fort Wayne's NBC News captured the photo of an officer talking with protesters that was shared hundreds of times on social media.

Who is the man? Officer James Payne.

There's a reason why Officer Payne was getting a lot of support.

When he's not working, he's giving back to the community as a referee, umpire, and mentor during his spare time.

Fort Wayne's NBC News sat down and talked with Payne one-on-one to learn about his personal story of why he wanted to become an officer, and why he is so involved within the community.

At the age of 12, Payne told Fort Wayne's NBC News that a few white high school kids would chase him and cousins home from school in Kentucky.

"We're not doing anything," Payne said. "We're walking home from school."

One day after school, Payne said two officers stepped in when he and his cousin were being chased home from school. Instead of helping, Payne said one officer told him to just go home. Payne said the other officer told him "you need to be chased."

This moment could have shaped Payne's long-term outlook on officers, however, Payne said Murray, Kentucky Police Chief Jeff Lyles reached out to him.

Payne said, "had this officer not came with a positive attitude, then my perspective on police would have been ruined."

He said Lyles listened to him and took him under his wing. A turning point Payne said that inspired him to become an officer.

Payne later attended the University of Louisville where he played football and studied criminal justice.

One Saturday evening, Payne said he and his teammates went out and a fight broke out.

"We were trying to initially break it up," said Payne.

Moments later, Payne said another man walked up to him and held a gun to his face.

"He pulled the trigger and it never fired...I was numb. It was like life stopped as I knew it." Payne said.

Ever since that moment, Payne said he dedicated his life to serving and helping others.

He said, "you don't fight evil with evil. You fight evil with good."

He said he is willing to listen to people of all backgrounds within the community just like the Murray, Kentucky Police Chief did with him back in his hometown.

"So when I put this badge, when I put this vest on, I let them know that's what I stand for," Payne said.

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Louie Tran

Louie Tran is the weekend anchor for Fort Wayne’s NBC at 6 and 11pm and a weekday general assignment reporter. To share story ideas, please email him at

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