By John Scott
Sgt. Ward Lawrence is busy.
While other officers and members of the press are attending an afternoon open house and ribbon-cutting at the newly renovated Kalamazoo County Jail, Lawrence is entering the home of a man who tried to commit suicide.
After discovering that the man is responsive and assisting fire fighters with getting him into an ambulance, Lawrence puts his reading glasses on and sorts through the eight pill bottles that the man ingested, carefully taking notes for his report. The man’s wife begins to weep.
“Take five outside,” Lawrence says kindly while chewing Extra gum. “You’re doing great.”
The man’s children, who were home because of spring break, approach Lawrence with wide eyes, a mix of fear and awe at this tall, middle-aged man in uniform. A dog barks in the other room and approaches Lawrence with its fur raised and teeth bared. Lawrence asks the children the dog’s name: Lucky.
“Good,” Lawrence says as he offers his hand and calmly pets the dog. “I like Lucky.”
“Being a cop is 95 percent routine and five percent pure terror,” Lawrence says later in his cruiser, in between sips of coffee. “What other job has such highs and lows?”
Lawrence, who is in his early 50s, might have found out last November if being Kalamazoo County sheriff held the same rollercoaster of emotions. But he didn’t. He lost in his bid to unseat incumbent and his boss Richard Fuller. He is back at his job as a sergeant in the sheriff’s office he’s worked at for nearly 20 years.
In a fall 2012 article on MLive, Lawrence was described as “running a campaign that preaches fiscal responsibility, responsible use and staffing of the new county jail expansion and a need for better morale within the agency.” Today, post-defeat, he is at work with his customary work ethic and vigor.
A Demanding Job
Moments before the suicide call, Lawrence was in another home, chewing a different piece of gum and petting another dog. This dog, however was not so lucky – his name was Max and his owner, a man with mental disabilities, was more intent upon collecting and sorting garbage rather than providing a safe home. The dog was covered in sores and lived in a cramped home along with at least a dozen cats.
Lawrence entered the home and was met by a nauseating odor of urine and garbage. Cats stared at him curiously as he tried to avoid tripping on empty cans of cat food strewn on the floor. The owner of the home insisted to Lawrence that the house, though dirty at the moment, would be perfect in a few days.
When Adult Protective Services and Animal Protective Services arrived, Lawrence gave them a quick overview of the situation and went to call the homeowner’s only living relative – his sister, who lived a few hours away. Lawrence addressed her as “ma’am” and assured her that her brother was in good hands. He had no sooner helped the homeowner into an ambulance to go to Borgess Hospital for an evaluation when he received the call that a man had just downed eight bottles of pills.
Long Days and Long Weeks
Aside from a quick lunch break consisting of an orange, string cheese, and a sandwich at the Comstock Fire Station, Lawrence has been busy all day. In the morning, he led a formal yet humorous briefing, backed up another officer on a rescue in an apartment complex’s garage, and responded to a call in which a man found a live grenade in his front yard, aiding the bomb squad in its removal. Not only does Lawrence face long days, he faces long weeks, working an estimated 50-70 hours.
“What people call work, I just say is another great day at the office,” Lawrence says. “One thing about police work is there’s always variety.”
That is not to say that everything is always smooth at the office.
Lawrence says has been shot at more than a dozen times and seen countless horrors. But the scariest moment of his life was leaving a burning building empty-handed, thinking that he had failed to rescue the people trapped inside. He had entered a building that was engulfed in flames, crawled beneath smoke, heard voices, but found no one. It was later discovered that the search had been in vain – the voices heard were a result of radio cords melting. No one was in the building after all.
As a veteran of the force, Lawrence jokingly says that younger officers consider him an antique or dinosaur. Upon arriving at each call, however, Lawrence’s experience shows. Moving with speed that belies his age, Lawrence tries to bring an air of authority, calm, and if possible, humor. Just as he does in briefing, Lawrence loves to keep a serious and stressful job on the lighter side at times.
“I try to make ‘em laugh before the shift and after,” Lawrence says. “So that everything in between, whatever happens, is filler.”
Lawrence knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a police officer. He learns all of the new technology as it becomes available, such as the various computer program updates in the cruisers’ laptops that allow deputies to better communicate with one another. He teaches deputies and gives presentations at the police academy about a wide range of topics ranging from firearms to the use of force, and also leads the mounted division. He learned Spanish to better serve the Hispanic population. Lawrence is a man who is immersed in the world of law enforcement – his wife is a police officer as well.
“Cops live in a different world,” Lawrence says. “We’re often misunderstood and portrayed in a very negative light.”
Life After Politics
Last year, Lawrence thrust himself further into the limelight when he entered the world of politics, by running for sheriff against incumbent Richard Fuller.
“You don’t know anything about politics until you throw yourself into it,” Lawrence says. “The overall experience was exhilarating. It was incredible. And with any luck…I’ll never be dumb enough to do it again.”
Today, reporters are no longer pursuing Lawrence. He isn’t a guest on radio stations and won’t be found debating his policies in public arenas. The signs made for his campaign are all tucked away and the webpage “Ward Lawrence for Sheriff” recently expired. Yet as Lawrence drives in his cruiser from dawn to dusk, sipping coffee, chewing gum, and listening to the soft hum of National Public Radio, he considers the entire experience to be an overwhelming victory.
“It was a chapter of my life that I’m glad I read,” Lawrence says. “[It was] probably one of the neatest things I’ve ever done.”
With no plans to enter the world of politics again, Lawrence seems content with his current workload.
“You gotta die somehow and God hates a coward,” Lawrence says as he stares his ever-vigilant eyes out of his cruiser, driving into the sunrise.