While Lt. Mike Ward has retired after 28 years with the Columbus Police Department, he plans to continue his second career as a educator.
Beginning on a part-time basis 17 years ago, Ward has juggled being a full-time instructor of criminal justice at Columbus East High School while continuing as a police department administrator since 2002.
A third challenge was added after he enrolled at Tiffin University, but Ward earned his master’s degree in criminal justice administration in 2007 and then a teaching certification five years later.
At East, students in the C4 program often want to know about law enforcement careers. While Ward tells them it’s an honorable profession, he said he also urges students to explore all options and risks.
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“I tell them they may have friends who will disassociate with them,” the 51-year-old Ward said. “And today, I really worry about the younger officers because the likelihood of them not coming home is much higher than during our time period.”
People who find satisfaction in law enforcement generally have a desire to serve other people, Ward said. That’s evident in programs such as DARE, Homework With An Officer, the Citizens Police Academy and even self-defense classes taught by officers, he said.
When Ward began his career 31 years ago as a deputy with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, and moved over to Columbus Police three years later, police work was simpler, he said.
For example, a half-page, hand-written incident report was sufficient 30 years ago. But a much longer, computer-generated report is necessary today, Ward said.
Technical advances such as stun guns have greatly reduced the odds of an officer getting into a fist fight, he said.
“But you don’t want to fight a person because of the repercussions – especially with video cameras,” Ward said. “Whether you are right or not, a fight just looks bad on video.”
Not surprisingly, Ward said his worst experiences have been any case that has resulted in the death of a child.
“Those are personal,” Ward said. “They stick with you for awhile.”
While he understands the necessity of stricter regulations, Ward expressed a bit of sadness that good-humored practical jokes officers used to play on one another are now prohibited.
But the retired officer does recall a case where he used a tactic that managed to get the job done, and also give officers a good laugh.
While a group of suspects was ignoring orders to surrender as they hid in a wooded area at night, Ward got onto his public-address system and warned the people that if they didn’t come out he would send in the police dogs.
Then, he began playing a sound effects recording of growling dogs over the PA system in his patrol car, he said.
“These people started rushing out, and you could see their flashlights bouncing as they came running toward us,” Ward said. “We did what was necessary to get the job done, but it did provide us with a little comic relief.”
Not only will Ward continue to have a second career as an educator, but a second chance as a parent.
Ward said he regrets some missing important moments in the lives of his two oldest children, now both in their upper 20s.
“I realize how much I’ve missed now, because I have an 11-year-old daughter at home,” Ward said. “I’ll get to spend a lot more time with her.”