By Sue Moore
“I’ve always wanted to be a cop,” said Schoolcraft Police Chief Bryan Campbell, “ever since I was 11 years old.” Now he is retiring after 40 years in uniform, 25 of them with the St. Joseph County sheriff’s department, 14 1/2 in Schoolcraft.
The idea of becoming chief at the age of 45 intrigued him, Campbell said. He applied for the Schoolcraft job in 2002 when it first opened but he didn’t get it. “This was a troubled department and I thought I could be of some help. They let my predecessor go in 2005 and I applied again.” This time, village President Loren Warfield asked him to stay for five years and straighten things out. He’s been around a lot longer as he loves the job with every day expecting the unexpected. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Lots of things have changed in policing since Campbell began at the age of 20 with the sheriff’s department. He rose to be a plain-clothes detective sergeant, doing criminal investigations. “In 1977 we didn’t wear bullet proof vests, you couldn’t even communicate with the state police on our radio channels and we didn’t have computers,” he observed.
“Now we do what is called community policing in Schoolcraft. In this small department in a small community you can get to know everyone. We cover sporting events where our officers can mingle with the spectators. The 4th of July is always a good chance to help people out. The staff includes Campbell, who usually works the day shift from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., two full-time officers who work 8 a.m.-8 p.m. shifts, and four part-time officers to ensure the village is covered at all times.
In all 40 years, Campbell has never had to use his gun. “I came closest two weeks after I started in Schoolcraft. I was called to a domestic violence scene when the male came out of the house with a gun. It was later discovered to be a replica gun,” Campbell explained.
What he has had to cover is lots of accidents and a few fatalities. There are 20,000 cars per day traveling through Schoolcraft, equaling 7 million or more per year. The speed limit is 35 but when a car or truck has been cruising at 70 on US 131 and then all of a sudden meets the 35 zone it feels to the driver like the car is just crawling. Most of the accidents are rear-end crashes where people just aren’t paying attention, he pointed out. The few fatalities have been troublesome to him. He was eating dinner at Bud’s Bar when a pedestrian was crossing Grand Street at the corner of Eliza and got hit by an 18-wheeler during the Christmas Walk event. “That was a tough one as you realize the impact of a death is difficult for everyone involved. Even one fatality is too much.”
There was a bank robbery in 2010 and a couple of other armed robberies since then. The village police often get called to help with accidents outside the village limits, especially on U Avenue and US-131. “We can get there long before the sheriff’s department but we need to be requested by the county or state police as we are not deputized. The South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority members are tremendous help. There is nothing better to watch than when their big fire truck pulls up and blocks the highway for us rather than trying to keep traffic contained with cones that we set out. They are a fantastic help,” he said.
“We have a mutual aide agreement with the Vicksburg village police department that is our best working relationship with another peacekeeping entity. They have come to our assistance 90 percent of the time when a second officer is needed on a call. We try to do the same for them too,” Campbell explained.
“My goal has been to make this the best police department in the county. To that end, I want us to be complete and follow up on any and all complaints.” He reports this out to the village council each month. Following are the complaint activities for the month of September that Campbell reported:
Total events: 197, total complaints 99, assist Vicksburg police 13, assist Kalamazoo County Sheriff 9, Ottawa County 1, assist South County Fire/EMS 6, vehicle crashes investigated 7, ordinance violations 7, traffic enforcement stops 65, tickets 13, warnings 22, arrest total 1, warrants 1.