On his last night working for the Ingham County Sherrif’s office, Darren Shackleford recalls hanging out with the Deputy Matt Wilson of Stockbridge Mich. when he was a child. “He rode his bike around town all the time,” he said. This helped Shackleford and Wilson develop a growing relationship. “I call him dad now,” he said.
Shackleford started his police training during his junior and senior years of high school. Immediately after graduation, he joined the Army where he served as a military police officer in the United States and over seas. At age 21, he joined the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department. “I grew up in Ingham County, so this is like the ideal place I wanted to work,” he said.
At 6 p.m. shift change starts and all deputies gather together in the break room. They take no notice of two ride-along strangers sitting among them. Each officer joins in on the lingering conversation, throwing out everything from police jargon and swear words to goals and advice for one another. From the conversation and the lack of concern on their faces, it appears they don’t care what people think of them. “There are some bad cops, and they make a bad name for the rest of us,” said Shackleford. But, you have to ignore the negativity, he said.
“I feel like cops waste time, and they’re a waste of our tax dollars,” said Bryan Howard, 23. He said cops pull people over for stupid reasons just because they can when they could be arresting people who are committing serious crimes. But, Shackleford said that as long as people are honest and they have a clean record, they’re not going to get a ticket for something stupid.
“We’re always looking for something else every time we pull someone over,” he said. Police officers are trained to look for certain signs that could lead to potential drug busts for example. “You have to have a reason to search someone’s car,” he said. And some of these probable causes cannot be proved, like smell for instance. “But it comes down to ethics,” said Shackleford.
Knowing who to pull over is another judgment call that comes with experience. “This looks like an awesome stop,” he said. Shackleford followed an old beat up truck. The back fender was smashed in, and the license plate light was out.
After pulling the driver over, he came back to the car with two names, and both brought up Friend of the Court warrants in the computer. Shackleford arrested Garold M. Phillips and Joseph F. Button for failure to pay child support. He verified with the lien that the warrants were valid and read them their rights.
But, even though he was nice and professional, they still had feelings of animosity toward Shackleford himself and cops in general. “Why you gotta be so mean?” yelled Phillips. “Why you gotta do me wrong like this?” he asked. Button didn’t say much directly to Shackleford, but he performed a seemingly never-ending monologue of rage while in the backseat. “I’m moving out of this country, I swear on my life,” he said. “Cops just want to arrest you for everything.”
Despite their hostility, Shackleford worked with Button and Phillips. He waited on the side of the road while someone drove up with bond money for Phillips, and he gave Button advice on how to handle his case during the car ride to Ingham County Jail.
In the break room where officers fill out their reports, Shackleford ran into Bowden who also had two arrests that night. They sat together and complained about the loads of paperwork they have to do. “But this is just a really fun job. The paperwork is the only bad part,” said Bowden. And Shackleford quickly chimed in. “I love my job,” he said.
However it’s not always easy. According to Shackleford, there’s a combination of two things that make the job enjoyable. You have to like the things that make a cop a cop: driving fast, being an authoritative figure, etc. “You feel bad when you arrest someone,” he said. And that’s where the second part comes into play. “You really have to want to serve and protect your community.”
Though it may have been Shackleford’s last shift with Ingham County, he’s not leaving the job behind. “I’ve always wanted to work in Stockbridge and Webberville and they had an opening so I put in for it and I got it,” he said. He will attend mountain bike school in June. After that, he will patrol the same streets as his “dad” did as he rides his bike all over town. “I’m pretty excited.”