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End of the beat

Atlas Twp. resident reflects on four decades of law enforcement

October 05, 2011 - In 1962 Jim Gage was looking for a job.

"I came home and my dad had an application for the Detroit Police Department for me," said Gage. "So I just completed it and sent it in—I started to work for Detroit Police in 1962."

Today, after more than four decades of law enforcement which included a significant stint with the Michigan State Police and recently as Genesee County Undersheriff—Gage, an Atlas Township resident, retired.

"I made a good living," said Gage. "I educated my family, stayed married the whole time, earned a degree from Wayne State University and through the years had the opportunity to mentor a lot of outstanding police officers. The role of law enforcement has changed in ways— you have to be skilled in more areas than before—from computers to smart phones to DNA. It's been a great career."

As a Detroit police officer in 1968, Gage was called to duty in the Detroit riots.

"Our command center was the Herman Kiefer Hospital. We rode four officers in the patrol cars," he said. "At that time the police department was extemely underarmed. Many of us brought our own guns to work. I carried a Browning five-shot semiautomatic 12-gauge shotgun. We were shot at a lot during our noon to midnight shift."

Gage recalled a National Guard tank near Grand River Avenue and Grand Boulevard.

"There was report of a shooter up in the marquee of a theater on Grand River," he said. "That tank rolled down the street and opened fire from the gun turret on that sign—for at least two minutes."

In additon to the Detroit City Police, Army troops from the 82nd Airborne along with about 1,000 Michigan State Police were also called in, said Gage.

"I really liked working for the Detroit Police Department," he said. "I later thought I might as well work for the best—so in 1967 I joined the Michigan State Police."

In October 1967 Gage started Michigan State Police cadet training in Lansing.

"The 16-week program started with 73 candidates and ended with 43," he said. "The program was all white males except for one black male and two white females."

Gage was assigned to a post in Iron Mountain.

"I crossed the Mackinac Bridge heading to Iron Mountain the same day as Super Bowl II—Green Bay vs.Oakland in 1968," he said. "That was a real cultural shock from Detroit to the U.P."

Gage served two years in Iron Mountain and returned to the Michigan State Police road patrol Detroit area in 1970. In 1972 Gage received the top score of 700 state troopers to take the sergeant's exam.

In 1976 Gage was assigned along with more than 100 Michigan State Police troopers to patrol more than 62 miles of Detroit area highways after reports of gang violence. According to news reports in August 1976 then- Michigan Governor William Milliken ordered the Michigan State Police to patrol the Detroit highways after a request from Detroit Mayor Coleman Young.

"The gangs would cause accidents then rob the drivers," said Gage. "It was a war zone. We were taking people to jail as fast as we could—it was a crazy job. The Detroit City Police were calling us union busters and there were shoving matches with troopers. We were treated like a foreign army over that first year."

Over the next 16 years Gage served in a variety of positions with the Michigan State Police, from third district commander, which includes ten posts and 275 employees, to captain in the criminal investigation division for the Detroit area.

"The area of Detroit covered five million people and required the coordination of FBI, Secret Service and the ATF," he said. "We were living in New Baltimore where my three children were very happy with their school. I had promised them we'd not move again—still, we moved."

Gage and his family came to Atlas Township in 1981.

"My children were in eighth, seventh and third grades when they started in the Goodrich School District. It's been the best ever for them. We never moved after that and looking back, it was the best education."

When Gage retired from the Michigan State Police in 1996 he received a total of 27 plaques and citations for his service.

"My retirement party from the Michigan State Police attracted several hundred," he said. "However, I stayed retired for about three years. I was living in Atlas Township and knew Robert Pickell."

Pickell was appointed sheriff in 1999 to succeed Joe Wilson.

"He (Pickell) called me in 1998 and asked me to be Undersheriff in Genesee County," he said. "At first I turned the job down—I just did not want to go there—the department needed a lot of work, it needed to be turned around. It was an 'F-Troop.' But after some pay negotiation I was sworn in as Genesee County Undersheriff on Martin Luther King Day in 1999."

During his more than 12 years with the sheriff department, Gage established significant policies and solved three closed murder cases.

"Closed, unsolved cases are very difficult to solve," he said. "The trial goes cold, witnesses die and evidence deteriorates—but now with DNA we can find the truth."

Several factors led to Gage's retirement.

"Well I turned 70 in March, my replacement, Chris Swanson, was ready and I knew the department budget was going to be a tsunami—we are down to about 200 from almost 300 in the department. I made my decision and want to leave on top."

Gage's day last day was June 30.

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