By Matt Schepeler
For much of the past 47 years, Bill Walker has given up his free time and volunteered as a reserve officer for area police departments, the past 30 with Columbia Township.
It is worth repeating: Walker volunteered, free of charge, for the past 30 years in Columbia Township.
Walker, a plumbing and heating technician by trade, started his career of volunteerism with the Jackson County Mounted Patrol in 1970, from there went to Leoni township, then to Grass lake before finally coming to Columbia Township.
When asked why he is hanging up his badge, Walker’s wife, Marcia, didn’t beat around the bush. “I’m the reason he retired,” said Marcia.
“It is a young man’s sport,” said Walker. “I am 67, so it is time. It has been fun. I met a lot of great guys. I can’t think of one bad guy. I just loved it.”
He said going into retirement hasn’t been easy. Law enforcement apparently has a way of getting in one’s blood. Marcia noted that they were recently at a gas station when a police squad car “came flying by.
“He just looked at me and said ‘I really miss that.’ I said, ‘I don’t,’” said Marcia with a laugh.
“It is the rush,” he admitted. “The camaraderie, the guys . . . it was just a great group of guys. And you see a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff that most people will never see. It is an exciting job, and I love helping people.
While Walker’s presence may not have been noticed by the majority of law-abiding residents in the township, he was clearly appreciated by the officers with which he worked, several of which came to the presentations given to him at Columbia Township and the Village of Brooklyn. Walker even came to be known as “Doc” for his willingness to help officers sort out problems. When asked about the nickname, he got quiet, as if embarrassed by the question, and said “I helped a couple of guys through some personal problems that is all it was. Everybody has their days, and [police officers] just need someone to talk to sometimes. They see a lot of stuff every day. They might go home some nights and not want to talk about what they saw.
“I don’t think the public knows what these guys go through every day. It is tough. They don’t get the recognition they deserve. These guys, every day, for 20, 30, 40 years, they put up with a lot.”
But Walker was much more than a ride-along psychologist. Sgt. Jay Niles said that it is assuring to have a capable partner along when going on calls in the middle of the night. “A second car might be 10, 15 minutes away. So, having a reserve officer right in the car with me, is such a valuable tool. Having a second opinion, another set of eyes . . . it is just invaluable.”
Columbia Police Chief David Elwell, who recognized Walker’s achievements at both the village and township meeting, said Walker’s service was “Hugely valuable.”
“He did so much for us for so long,” said the chief. Reserve officers have full police powers when in the presence of another officer. The township provides his weapon, uniform and anything necessary for the position.
Elwell said that the department is now down to two reserve officers. “We are kind of picky about who we take,” said Elwell, adding that often reserve officers have gone through the complete Michigan Commission of Law Enforcement program, but never bothered getting officially certified.
He said that Walker would often work parades for the department, and typically work one shift a week with officers.
“He is going to be missed,” said the chief.