As 2017 closes, the law enforcement community and their families are remembering the loss during this year of six retired, larger-than-life police officers. They had worked in Bartholomew County for more than a combined 150 years and left a legacy for others to follow.

Retired Indiana Master State Trooper and investigator Mike Arford died Sept. 1, well-known for his by-the-book training techniques and his focus on keeping fellow officers safe.

He had been an Indiana State trooper for 21 years, after starting out in the military as a Marine in intelligence work and later transitioning to teaching in the New Castle area before joining the state police.

His widow, Cheryl Arford, said that while the loss to her is personal, the community saw the passing of so many retired law enforcement officers from this area in 2017, most who served together during the 1970s through the 1990s.

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“It’s just amazing how many of them we lost so close together,” she said.

“Many of these veteran officers had a huge impact to the younger officers who followed.”

In addition to Arford and fellow State Trooper Dave Richardson, the community lost retired Columbus Police Department officers Norman Barr, Gary Coon, Charlie Carson and Don Lawless.

Carson, 84, who retired from the Columbus Police Department as a detective and was living in Florida, died there July 17.

Barr, 80, died on July 26, a retiree who had served as a Columbus police officer for 39 years in roles including juvenile officer, detective, sergeant and in the traffic division. In retirement, he had been honored for working to schedule crossing guards and working on parking enforcement, and serving as a Parkside Elementary crossing guard for more than 15 years.

Coon, 77, died Aug. 27, after serving with the Columbus Police Department, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department, the Indiana Department of Correction and at Camp Atterbury for the Department of Defense.

Lawless, 79, died Oct. 5 after retiring from the Columbus Police Department as a detective with 20 years of service. He also was an investigator for tort claims with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office.

Richardson, 73, retired in 1998 as a master trooper from the Indiana State Police where he served for 33 years. He died Oct. 27.

Lessons learned

Arford and Richardson served the Bartholomew County area as troopers around the same time and are remembered by their friends as polar opposites in their demeanor.

Bartholomew County Sheriff Sgt. T.A. Smith worked with Arford and Richardson over the years, saying he learned a lot from both troopers, even though they approached their work a little differently.

Smith always wanted to ride with Arford because the trooper was not one to hold back or mince words.

“He was loud and upfront and you were going to learn something that would save your life,” Smith said. “He was trying to teach it to you. He was a good guy all-around.”

Richardson tended to be quieter and more in the background when working with Arford, but Smith described him as a “great trooper.”

“He was witty, very smart,” Smith said of Richardson. “He did a lot for law enforcement. When we used to ride with Dave, he taught me how to run traffic … there’s just nobody going to be around anymore who had that kind of character, who took the time to teach us.”

Smith began his lessons from Arford early, meeting him when Smith was 16 years old driving a 1967 Ford Galaxy 500 that had been tricked out with headers and air shocks.

Smith said he decided to rev his pipes up in front of a nearby state trooper, because he knew he was legal — but the trooper turned out to be Arford.

“So Mike stops me, and gets out a ruler and measures my bumper height,” Smith said. “He gave me a ticket for bumper height.”

Arford never forgot Smith’s first interaction with him and the two joked about it for years.

“Yes, he remembered me,” Smith said. “He said, ‘You’re the one I gave the bumper height to.’”

“I did learn a lot from him,” Smith said. “Take his reports — he was an English teacher (before becoming a trooper) and they were articulated to a ‘T,’” Smith said. “I tried to emulate that.”

Arford was also the first state trooper in the state to have a camera installed in his car, and did some public relations work statewide showing the new technology to reporters around Indiana, including going on camera with television reporters.

Darren Cummins, former Republic photographer who now works for The Associated Press in Indianapolis, remembers several ride-alongs he did with Arford that were chronicled in the newspaper in the 1980s.

“Because of his size, he was intimidating — very tall,” Cummins said. “Nobody wanted to mess with him, and he just said it how it was. He could be very authoritative and joke with you at the same time.”

Arford’s wife said her husband had a “need for speed” at times and was pulled over by a Tennessee officer for speeding on a vacation years ago.

“The trooper asked for his license and Mike says, ‘I will lay it on the roof of the car’ because he was so big he had to stand up to get his wallet out,” she said. “And it was all ‘OK sir,’ and ‘Yes, sir’ from the officer and Mike complimented him on his training… And so they went back between the two cars and got to talking — and an hour and a half later, after they’d gone over all the people they knew in common, we were back on her way,” she said. “He didn’t get a ticket but the officer reminded him to slow down and be safe.”

Alan Trisler, who retired from the Columbus Police Department and now leads the Fraternal Order of Police, remembers Barr as a softspoken, genuine and caring individual who was always honest and forthright as he gave more than 50 years of service to the city. People who knew him felt they had a friend in him, no matter what was going on.

Coon served as Trisler’s field training officer and had a reputation as a “safe man,” the officer who knew where every safe was located in local businesses, Trisler said.

Coon was known for going on a stick run — checking all the buildings that contained safes to make sure the buildings were locked up tight and the safes were undisturbed, he said.

Trisler remembered Lawless’ detective work and his work in the juvenile division. Republic archives show that Lawless’ criminal investigations career included cases ranging from burglaries and thefts to bank robberies, attempted child abductions and scams. Detectives didn’t specialize back then, but were expected to handle whatever was thrown their way.

When Lawless was hired by the department, a Louisville newspaper wrote a headline that said, “Lawless officer hired to enforce laws in Columbus.”

Cheryl Arford said many officers shared stories and remembrances at her husband’s funeral and she is sure the families of the other officers also shared those moments.

“I know personally that I and our children heard very special and personal stories about Michael and his impact on these younger officers of how he mentored them, advised them and in some cases saved their lives,” she said. “There were also very funny stories of shared humorous and bizarre experiences as they served their communities and carried out their sworn duties.”

Her husband was one of those people whose laugh was booming, and started in his toes before it arrived through his voice, she said.

“Even from people he arrested, we would hear, if it hadn’t been for Mike telling me to change my ways, they wouldn’t be alive now,” his wife said.

Dennis Knulf, who serves as secretary-treasurer for the FOP and worked with all of the officers, said it is unusual for the law enforcement community to lose six of its retired members in one year, particularly six who had all worked in some branch of law enforcement together for so many years.

“That’s the most I can recall in one year — ever,” he said.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.