After 33 years in law enforcement, sheriff ready for ‘stress-free life’

11/24/2012 1:41 PM

02/20/2013 6:52 AM

The sting of Sedgwick County Sheriff Robert Hinshaw’s defeat in the Republican primary in August to challenger Jeff Easter lasted for about three hours.

Then, Hinshaw said, he began to put things into perspective.

After 33 years in law enforcement, he said, “I get to see what a stress-free life is like.”

Hinshaw, 55, plans to step down as sheriff on Dec. 15. Sedgwick County Republicans voted last week to appoint Easter, a Wichita Police Department captain, to the sheriff’s post a month early. He was scheduled to take office Jan. 14.

“No more worrying about the troops,” Hinshaw said. “No more calls in the middle of the night. No more responding to the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) for a natural disaster or heading to the scene.”

Ironically, the unique demands and unusual hours were what attracted Hinshaw to law enforcement as he tried to settle on a career path after graduating from high school.

“I just knew I didn’t want to work 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, in an office someplace,” he said.

He took a job working at J.C. Penney, where he met a security guard who also worked as a dispatcher. She told him about a job opening in the S.P.I.D.E.R. unit – Special Police Information Data Entry Retrieval. He applied and was hired while also working as an emergency dispatcher.

When he turned 22 in 1979, he was hired as a detention deputy in the Sedgwick County Jail and joined the reserves.

“That’s when I made the decision this was something I wanted to do full-time,” Hinshaw said of his time as a reserve officer.

“You got a chance to make a difference,” he explained. “There was an ongoing, constant challenge. Whether you ran across something or got a call from a dispatcher, you had to go solve whatever that problem was.

“I liked that idea of constantly challenging myself to do better – and having a chance to make a difference.”

He applied for a job with both the police and sheriff’s office, and the latter accepted him.

“My longterm goal ... was to be a sergeant on third shift road patrol,” Hinshaw said. “They were my mentors.”

He spent six years as a deputy, then four as a detective before he was promoted to sergeant.

“I hit my goal, but I was only there for about a year,” he said. “My captain called me in and told me, ‘You have a lot of ability, but hardly anybody knows you because you’re on third shift.’ ”

Becoming sheriff

He was given a temporary assignment drafting accreditation policies for patrol, and Sheriff Mike Hill was so impressed with the results he asked him to write and review policies covering other aspects of the department. The “temporary assignment” lasted more than two years.

Hinshaw continued to climb through the ranks, rising to the high-profile positions of commander of the investigations division and detention bureau commander — meaning the former detention deputy was now in charge of the Sedgwick County Jail.

When Undersheriff John Green retired to become associate director of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in 2006, Hinshaw was tabbed as his replacement. And when Sheriff Gary Steed decided to retire after two terms as sheriff, he asked Hinshaw to consider running.

“At that point, I was eligible to retire,” Hinshaw said. “I thought, ‘If I don’t run, I’m going to retire.’ ”

But after discussing it with his wife, he said, he decided “to go ahead and put my name in there and let the voters decide.”

“In 2008, they said yes. In 2012, they said no.”

Much of the 2012 campaign focused on controversies over the treatment of some jail inmates. In late June, a sheriff’s jail deputy resigned after being charged with 11 sex crimes following allegations that he handcuffed and raped one inmate and assaulted five others. An ongoing lawsuit against the sheriff and the county alleges a pattern of abuse of mentally ill inmates.

Hinshaw called it “allegations raised that have yet to be resolved.”

“People decided they wanted a change,” he said of the Republican primary. “It’s just one of those things.”

Lows and highs

But as he looks back on his career, Hinshaw doesn’t view his election defeat as a low point.

Instead, his thoughts turn to the five sheriff’s deputies killed in the line of duty over the course of his 33-year career — particularly Ken Snider and Brian Etheridge.

Snider, a 25-year-veteran of the department, was fatally stabbed in April 1997 at the age of 48 while attempting to resolve a domestic fight inside a house in Oaklawn.

“We worked the streets together,” Hinshaw said via e-mail of Snider, who was the best man at his wedding.

Sam Penn, a man with a long history of mental instability and violence toward authorities, was accused of killing Snider and died during a scuffle with detention deputies as his trial was under way the following June.

Etheridge, 26, was shot twice in September 2009 when he went to a house on Rock Road across from McConnell Air Force Base to investigate a reported crime. He died later that day at Wesley Medical Center. Richard Lyons, 27, died early that evening in an exchange of gunfire with officers in a field near the house.

Other than Snider’s death, Hinshaw said via e-mail, Etheridge’s death affected him probably more than any other.

“And yet I probably knew him the least of all of them,” he said.

As sheriff, he said, he felt like something of a father figure to the deputies under his command.

No one event serves as his high point, Hinshaw said. It’s more of an emotion, he said via e-mail, “the pride in leading a great organization of dedicated women and men in making this a better community.”

In the weeks following the election, he wrote, many people have come up to him and talked about “how I influenced them as a teacher, supervisor and sheriff and helped make them who they are today in the organization ... it made me realize that I did make a difference to the next generation of deputies.”

His new role

That gives him a sense of satisfaction, he said, as he prepares for his next role: house husband and cook. His wife, Jan, is a veterinarian and part-owner of Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Hospital at 727 S. Washington.

For the first time since they married more than 25 years ago, he said, “We get to be on the same shift.”

Hinshaw said he also plans to stay active on the boards of three organizations important to him: Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Sedgwick County, Envision and the Quivira Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “This is actually going to work out for the best.”

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