When Adam Argullin, ’00, tells people what he does for a living, they’re often surprised. Those who meet him out of uniform — at a concert where he’s playing drums, for example — would never guess that he's a police officer in Florence, Kentucky. In his early days at EKU, Argullin himself would have never guessed he’d end up in law enforcement; he had planned to earn a degree in music merchandising.
Surprisingly, his musical talent and unorthodox methods are exactly what has made Argullin successful. The lasting connections he has made with fifth-graders as drum-playing Officer Adam earned him D.A.R.E. Officer of the Year in 2015. His handmade marimba mallet business boasts customers such as the drummers for Kelly Clarkson, Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia Line.
He has addressed over 400,000 children and adults out of uniform through a “drum-infused, motivational anti-drug experience” called Stay Tuned. His accomplishments are proof that it takes all kinds.
“I’m not trying to build a better mousetrap,” he said. “I’m just trying a different kind of cheese.”
Argullin likely could not have picked two more dissimilar interests. The transition from taking music classes in the Foster Building to law enforcement training in Stratton came with quite a culture shock. “It’s like living in two worlds,” he said.
Studying music had seemed a natural choice for Argullin. He had been playing drums since age 5, landing his first paid gig at 11. Some of his best memories as a Colonel took place wrapping marimba mallets for his fledgling business in his private room in the old Martin Hall. At first, he was simply rewrapping damaged mallets on the cheap for his fellow percussionists — his first pair were wrapped in EKU maroon. But by that spring, Adam Argullin Mallets had taken on a life of its own, selling out its full inventory at the Kentucky Day of Percussion that the University hosted.
Near the beginning of his junior year, however, Argullin began to question his chosen path. Though his passion for music hadn’t waned, he craved a more stable lifestyle than a music career would afford. His first job at Guntown Mountain, a Wild West-themed park near his Cave City home, had sparked an interest in law enforcement, so he decided to give it a try.
“It was really a shot in the dark,” said Argullin.
Instead of forsaking one life over another, Argullin has gotten the best of both worlds. In addition to infusing music into his police work through programs such as D.A.R.E. and Stay Tuned, he still plays sub gigs as a drummer, and Adam Argullin Mallets is more lucrative than ever.
“The only person that's gonna prevent you from doing all the things that you want to do is yourself,” he said. “We talk ourselves out of more things than we talk ourselves into.”
To Argullin, both music and police work are about creating moments.
“What's cool about music is you have the opportunity to shape a moment in someone's life. The music that we're playing will spawn a memory,” he said. “Same with policing.”
Much of Argullin’s career has been dedicated to drug prevention. After joining the Florence Police Department, he eventually began doing undercover missions for the FBI Northern Kentucky Safe Streets Task Force and became one of only 60 trained drug recognition experts in Kentucky. It’s safe to say that he often catches people in their most vulnerable state. But his role presents an opportunity to bring hope to dark places.
“If you do it right, you can leave them with that same moment, where they appreciate the police, or they thank you for your service, or they're just glad somebody showed up and listened.”
Those moments have shaped his approach to D.A.R.E. “As a patrol officer and while undercover, you react to problems. I've got the opportunity to prevent one,” he said.
The first class to meet Officer Adam through D.A.R.E. in 2011 graduated high school last year. Now in his final year of teaching the program, many of Argullin’s former students have claimed to make better choices because of his advice. While some question the impact of D.A.R.E., Argullin’s success in the classroom may be a result of doing things his own way. Every year, he surprises his students at D.A.R.E. graduation by showing up in plainclothes and playing drums to their favorite songs. Ultimately, though, he believes connection is key.
“I always personalize things. I tell the students personal things about me so that they understand that I'm someone else out of uniform. For whatever reason, it works.”
One of Argullin’s most memorable contributions to the anti-drug cause takes place out of uniform, behind a drum set, in jeans and a t-shirt. His motivational, anti-drug drum show, Stay Tuned, is in its sixth year with more than 100 shows to date. He has traveled over 25,000 miles performing for school assemblies, churches and conferences.
At one point in the show, Argullin depicts celebrities who have been visibly harmed by drug use. But one show in particular reminded him that the issue hits even closer to home. A young boy and his teacher approached Argullin before the show to make a request. The boy never looked up from the ground, but asked, “Can you play some country music?” Argullin agreed, having already planned to open the show with a country song. “My brother loves country music.”
When Arugllin asked if his brother was here today, a tear rolled down the boy’s cheek. He told Argullin that only four days ago, he had found his brother dead in his bedroom with a needle in his arm.
“I haven't been to a community yet that doesn’t have a story like this young man's,” said Argullin. “So that's why I do it. It would put me out of work, but I would love it if I never had to do another show.”
Argullin has played shows for thousands of country fans. He has put on Stay Tuned for hundreds of thousands of people, and spoken to thousands of fifth-graders over eight years. But as far as he is concerned, the magic number is one.
“If one person listens to one thing I say,” he said, “and they use that one thing to help themselves or one other person, then all of it was worthwhile.”