Small town policing
By Courtney Rivette
Living on the Ledge Staff Writer
“Where everybody knows your name” can be associated with the Cheers TV show theme song, but also with the way the Grand Ledge community views its police department.
“I love it, it’s a small town, people know us as ‘Officer Sleep’, or ‘Officer Clark’, and even know us on a first name basis,” said Officer Mark Sleep of the Grand Ledge Police Department. “It’s nice because you get to know people and they get to know you more, so you’re not just a guy or a girl wearing a badge. You are actually a person.”
According to the US Census, the 2005-09 population in Grand Ledge was approximately 7,500. The small community atmosphere makes policing in Grand Ledge different than that of bigger cities. The GLPD operates out of the basement of a building that used to be a Catholic church and has 18 employees.
“I’ve talked to officers in other departments and the big departments are totally different,” said Lieutenant Don McGillis. “I like the freedom of everything we do here. I like the idea here of just doing basic police work and doing all of it: the detective part, the patrol part, accidents, the good, the bad, the ugly, you do it all in a small department.”
McGillis has been employed at the GLPD for 31 years and has top seniority at the department. As a lieutenant, he is in charge of road patrol and the sergeants, and also goes out on patrol himself. McGillis also fills in for the police chief if he is unavailable.
Officer Sleep has also invested many years into the department. This year will be Sleep’s 25th year with the GLPD.
Sleep sees benefits in working in a small community.
“If crime happens you might have an idea of who could have done it, because it’s such a small town,” Sleep said. “The call load is lower than big cities, so we get to investigate crimes that many big departments wouldn’t get to do.”
On the Job
There are four different shifts that officers at the Grand Ledge PD can work. These shifts include:
- 7 a.m.-5 p.m.
- 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
- 5 p.m.-3 a.m.
- 9 p.m.-7 a.m.
An officer’s typical routine can change drastically between the day and night shift.
The day shift can consist of paperwork, reports, follow-ups on the phone and in person, taking evidence to the crime lab and pulling people over, among others.
In contrast, the night shift officers often deal with things such as warrant arrests, suspended licenses and drunk driving,
“It’s true that the bad people come out at night,” Sleep said. “Or at least they are easier to spot and easier to catch.”
McGillis, who worked the night shift for 26 years, and Sleep, who worked it for 11 years, both prefer to do their job at night.
“It’s nice to sneak around at night,” Sleep said. “It’s a whole different way to do things.” He also preferred the night shift when he had young children at home. He liked the fact that he could put them to bed at night, go to work, and be back in the morning to take them to school. The only drawbacks to working the late night hours are the physical toll it takes on the body and the difficulty of trying to be a “normal person” on the weekends, Sleep said.
McGillis and Sleep enjoy working at a department where they can solve a crime from beginning to end. It’s a “good feeling” when you wrap up a case and get a conviction, McGillis said.
Some of McGillis’ most memorable cases were the few homicides that have occurred in Grand Ledge. He also remembers an unusual case involving a woman who lived with her elderly aunt. When the aunt died, the woman wanted to continue receiving social security checks. “She wrapped the aunt up in plastic, hid her in the closet and kept her there for a couple years before other relatives became suspicious,” McGillis said. “Cases like that are the ones that stick in your mind.”
Sleep’s most memorable case involved arson. He knew who committed the crime and had a witness, but could never get the suspect to confess. Sleep “lived and breathed” that case for weeks, but never achieved the outcome he wanted.
Sleep’s least favorite part of the job is making arrests.
“I don’t particularly like arresting people or giving tickets,” Sleep said. “Some guys really enjoy that. They get a kick out of it, but I don’t.”
The hardest cases for McGillis are ones involving the death of small children.
“I used to not be able to sleep for two or three days after I saw something horrible, but after a while I learned,” McGillis said. “I went to some classes and learned coping techniques. Now at my age, I can put everything out of my mind and leave it at work, but a lot of the young guys have problems dealing with that.”
In his three decades with the department, McGillis has seen technology improve by “leaps and bounds.” When he started in 1980, the department used walkie talkies to communicate. They did not have preliminary breath tests at that time, so field sobriety tests were used to determine whether someone should be arrested. Other improvements include radar units, intermediate weapons such as tasers and pepper spray, and computers in the patrol cars.
An improvement Grand Ledge PD employees would like to see in the future is a new facility. McGillis and Sleep agree that the current police department is “cramped” and “not handicap accessible.” For more information on the current police department, click here.
“That would be a great thing for the officers to have a new facility to work out of,” McGillis said.
The GLPD is located on 200 E. Jefferson St. in Grand Ledge.
Lieutenant McGillis and Officer Sleep share their reasons for becoming police officers