Sheriff’s Life has been Full of Surprises

By Nancy Zoellner-Hogland

In the summer of 1992, Danny Aldridge, the chief of the Memphis Police Department at that time, asked Wayne Winn if he ever thought about law enforcement as a career. As a certified auto mechanic who also worked construction, he said the question surprised him a bit.

“I told him, ‘No – I never thought about that at all!’ But he asked me to come in and ride around with an officer to see what it was like. My first thought was, ‘What would they find to do in this small town?’ but I decided to ride along one weekend and was amazed at all the calls they got. The city of Memphis had two officers on duty at a time and they ran from call to call – domestics, DWIs, fights – lots of calls. Suddenly, that type of work interested me and I asked what I needed to do to get hired,” he recollected.

That’s all the chief needed to hear. Soon after, he was hired and told he had a year to get trained and certified.

“They swore me in in November 1992, handed me a ticket book and a gun and said ‘Go do it.’ I asked ‘Go do what?’” Sheriff Winn quipped. “I remember my first traffic stop. They told me to stop a guy because he didn’t have a driver’s license and after I stopped him, I thought ‘Now what do I do?’”

He got many of his questions answered in February 1993, when he attended the Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy for the basic 120-hour training course – all that was required at that time. Things started making sense, but because he still had more questions than answers, he said he frequently sought the advice and guidance of other, more seasoned, law enforcement officers. His dedication, commitment and desire to not only learn, but to excel, was noted. In 1994, he was promoted to sergeant and was put in charge of field training for new officers. As the No. 2 guy under the chief, he also shouldered a lot of the responsibilities of the department over the next several years. He was comfortable in his position and planned to stay – until 2000, he was asked to run for sheriff by Sheriff Mark Drummond, who planned to retire at the end of his term.

He said that, initially, he wasn’t all that interested because he had a good retirement plan and good health insurance with the city. However, after learning the county also provided a retirement plan and (wrongly) assuming he would be able to get a pay increase equal to the cost of purchasing his own insurance, he put his name on the ballot and was elected.

With several years of law enforcement experience under his belt, Sheriff Winn said he also assumed it would be an easy transition.

“I was wrong again! It was a totally different job. The law enforcement was the easy part. It was the jail and the scheduling and the hiring and the firing and the formulating a budget and the following a budget and the overseeing dispatch that was difficult! Being in charge of law enforcement for the entire county instead of the entire city was totally new – and a lot more work,” he added.

Now, 16 years later, in addition to handling the administrative side of the office, Sheriff Winn also works the road. In fact, he and his chief deputy are the only two paid people patrolling the 439-square-mile county. They are assisted by eight reserve (volunteer) officers, two of whom work part time.

The sheriff said he typically works three 24-hour shifts in a row. Then his chief deputy comes on and does the same, alternating weekends off. Sheriff Winn also employs four full-time and some part-time dispatchers, who handle calls for not only Scotland County, but also for other emergency responders in the area. The dispatchers also serve as jailers, preparing and serving meals to inmates.

Finding and then keeping quality employees has been a challenge for Sheriff Winn, soon to be entering his fifth term. With a population of approximately 4,500 – 40 to 50 percent of which belongs to a Mennonite community – he said he has had a difficult time even recruiting employees for his office.

He expects to face another challenge in the future when he tries to find the resources that will be needed to build a new jail. He currently houses male inmates in a six-man jail located in the basement of the county’s century old courthouse. Women are housed in Clark County, which costs the county $35 per day, per female inmate.

“It’s not that I want a bigger jail. I just want a safer jail. We don’t have direct supervision, we don’t have a big enough staff to adequately monitor the inmates, our locking system is antiquated, and every time we take someone out, we have to walk them through space that is shared with the public. We have several different points where they could escape if they put their minds to it,” Sheriff Winn said.

Primarily agricultural, with little opportunity for sales tax growth, there’s not a lot of promise for change.

One thing that has changed is the type of crimes they regularly handle.

“I can remember when methamphetamine first became ‘the thing.’ We didn’t know anything about it and then suddenly, we were swamped with cases. That’s become less of a problem but now we’re dealing with prescription drug abuse,” he said, adding that the crime isn’t limited to the young. “We unfortunately are dealing with drug abusers of all ages.”

One thing that hasn’t changed in the past 16 years is the sheriff’s love for deer and turkey hunting and fishing.

He fishes for anything that swims but said crappie and walleye are his favorite – and he fishes in any body of water he can find – farm ponds or lakes in Iowa, North Dakota, Nebraska, Illinois and of course, Missouri. Although his wife, Brenda, sometimes accompanies him on his trips, it’s as a passenger and not a participant.

“She likes to ride in the boat but she doesn’t like to fish,” he said, adding that wasn’t the case for his daughter, 26, and son, 24, who both share his passion.

Sheriff Winn is also passionate about the support he received from his office and his community after a near-fatal accident on the night of March 19, 2003. While responding to a domestic call, he rolled his truck and was ejected.

“They say I wasn’t wearing my seatbelt. I almost always wore my seatbelt at that time but it either didn’t work or I failed to put it on,” he said, adding, “I always make sure it’s on now! When I was ejected, I broke all my ribs in two places on my left side and I had a punctured lung, a ruptured spleen and two skull fractures. I spent three weeks in the hospital – but don’t remember being there – and was then transferred to the Rusk Rehab in Columbia, where I stayed until May 1. Then I underwent physical therapy throughout the summer to get my strength and balance back, and returned to work in September 2013. They say I almost died but I don’t remember anything about it, which is a blessing, I suppose.”

He does remember, however, that everyone stepped up to help, “and for that, I’m very thankful.”