Friday was a calm night.
But that’s all right with Sgt. Kelly George of the Kenai Police Department.
He and his SUV stickered with police decals rolled up and down the Kenai Spur Highway bound by the city’s limits — Wildwood Correctional Center to the west, a vacant car dealership to the east.
It takes less than a half hour to navigate.
Light traffic cruised through Kenai’s main stretch around midnight all following the speed limit.
George watched each car pass approvingly.
He said he doesn’t have any desire to work in a larger community. Here he knows school administrators, people at the local grocery store and his fellow church members.
“Anchorage is big in my opinion,” George said. “There’s something about Kenai that simply has a sense of home.”
Kelly Thomas George began working at KPD in 1998. Although George had years of service under his belt, the relocation reduced his rank. He policed his way back up to sergeant and now commands many young officers.
He drives a desk most days. However, the position suits him, as he gravitates toward an instructor’s role. His sociable characteristics mesh with the atmosphere of the small town police department, he said.
George, a man of average height and medium build with a buzz cut, gulped a cup of coffee as he answered early morning emails. A half-dozen assortment of coffee mugs occupied a corner of his work desk.
Photos of fishing trips filled a large bulletin board behind his desk. He stared at the computer screen as he recalled his initial curiosity with law enforcement, which — partially — led him to Alaska.
Growing up near Stayton, Ore. he spent his teenage years farming various crops. It was a means to an end: gas money.
His father’s friend, Rick Forrester, shared stories of his career as a police officer. Forrester worked in Bremerton, Wash. as well as Ketchikan. Interesting cases, impromptu fights and other funny stories perked George’s initial interest in police work.
“Where I grew up you were either a farmer or a logger,” he said. “I knew that I needed to be an educated man.”
College began and George pursued a career in sports medicine. But circumstances prescribed an alternative path for the young man. A friend needed police assistance during his freshman year, and George was impressed with the authorities’ handling of the case.
His mind was made up. He decided to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“I spent some time as a volunteer cadet at a local police department in Oregon,” he said. “I knew then, without a shadow of a doubt, that’s what I wanted to do.”
George pulled over three commuters Friday night. A red Ford Expedition with expired tags pulled into the Kenai veterinarian’s hospital off of Spur Highway by direction of flashing red and blue lights. The stop was routine and uneventful. He said he likes to work traffic, as it gets him out of the office.
Uneventful is better. Traffic stops can become quickly hostile. It depends upon the severity of the situation, but George said he offers respect to community members in most situations.
A day earlier, George was summoned to Country Foods to apprehend a shoplifter. The 25-year-old female sat crying in the store’s office, at times refusing to sit down. She also attempted to conceal a cosmetic product she supposedly had thrown away before George’s arrival.
The woman was transported to Wildwood despite her pleas with the sergeant and a store manager. He raised his voice multiple times to get her to take a seat and was unapologetic to her plight.
The girl didn’t have a reason for stealing, he said.
“I can sometimes have empathy for life circumstances that lead to theft,” he said. “But it wasn’t food. It was makeup, which she had money for if she would’ve chose to buy it.”
The sergeant credits his moral grounding to his upbringing. His parents are very “God-fearing” people, he said.
Brought up in a household with five siblings, consequences for actions were instilled in George’s mind. Commitment also was a quality passed down through his father. Joining a team meant membership for life. George’s chosen team eventually was law enforcement.
Throughout his career, George has looked to supervisors for guidance. Back in Oregon, it was Sgt. Mike Conrad, an “absolutely founded man.” Within KPD, George aims to emulate Chief Gus Sandahl, who instills truth, honesty and by-the-book procedures, he said.
Overall, the moral fiber of the staff at KPD is high, he said. Officers enter George’s office to share details on current cases. They lingered long after the work-related conversation ended, sharing jokes and anecdotes.
“I have a lot of pride in the fact that this department is a standout group of people,” he said.
Law enforcement officials are warranted immediate authority, from patrolman to lieutenant. As a result, recruitment is stringent, and well-rounded individuals are sought, George said.
Applicants go through a battery of psychological evaluations, both written and oral. The job also is coupled with various stressors, he admitted.
The reality of dealing with high stress situations struck George early in his career.
It was Christmas Day 1995 in Stayton, Ore. George received a report of a serious motor accident on a tight corner going out of town.
He was the first to arrive on scene. He spotted a body in the middle of the roadway, which was clearly visible on the warm, sunny day. Upon approaching the young man’s twisted body George realized he knew the victim.
There were five victims total. A Chevy Beretta, a small front-wheel drive compact sedan, had five local men tucked in its frame when in lost control and collided with a large pickup.
George examined the bloody scene checking the victims’ vitals. He knew nearly all the men. The driver of the pickup, a 70-year-old farmer, was battered. The farmer’s lip dangled from the corner of his mouth exposing his jaw, George said.
During the crash’s debriefing back at the station, burly men sat crying about the unfortunate incident. George said he thought he was handling the situation well.
Weeks passed. It was a quiet night off, and George was sleeping in bed next to his wife. The window was open to allow a breeze to flow through the room. George shifted his body and touched his wife’s arm. It was ice cold.
“I freaked out, absolutely freaked out,” he said. “I jumped up and ripped the sheets off ... It was then that I realized I would have to learn how to handle the stress of this job.”
Plans of his next fishing or hunting excursion pervade George’s thoughts. It was a fishing trip that persuaded him to move to the state. Alaska seemed like a pristine, untouched place, he said.
He hunts whatever and whenever he can. After nearly two decades with law enforcement, it’s easy to turn his mind away from work.
“I’m mainly thinking about my equipment, if I have enough flies,” he joked. “The outdoors is a great way to alleviate stress. Just get out there in God’s country and let it all go.”
George has about six years to reach the mandatory 20 years of service to receive retirement benefits. He might stay until he reaches 25 years, he said.
His two daughters are comfortable with his line of work. When they were younger he said they thought his car was cool; as they aged it was just what dad was, a police officer.
“I’ll be a cop when they’re done with college.”
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.