Cole County Sheriff’s Capt. Kevin Woodson poses for a photo Friday beside a Sheriff’s vehicle.​ ​Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

The world of education has played a major role in Cole County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Kevin Woodson’s professional life.

Woodson has been working full time with the department for 11 years, but started serving with the department as a reserve in 2005.​​

“People ask me how I got into law enforcement, and I think it’s a funny story,” Woodson said. “I graduated from Jefferson City High School, and before graduation we had a career day. I saw a table for Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, and they had a poster about there being a police academy at their school. My dad had served some time in law enforcement, and when I talked to the school recruiter they said they had their own academy on campus, so I decided that’s what I wanted to do. Well, when I got there, they had a building which was named police academy, but there was no academy there. The academy was off campus.”

Despite the auspicious start, Woodson said he never regretted his career path. Before coming to the Cole County Sheriff’s Department, Woodson worked with the California Police Department after leaving college.

“Actually, before I got out of college, I worked as a dispatcher for Moniteau County on weekends,” Woodson said. “While I was at the California PD, I was there when James Johnson shot four people in 1991. I saw the shots fired; and I was 21 years old, fresh out of the academy and thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ I thought, ‘this is a small town, but there were a lot of things happening in that small town.'”

In the early 1990s there was an investigation in Buffalo, Missouri, where a tanning bed shop owner had put in video cameras to watch his customers. Woodson said he had to deal with the same thing in California.

“Some of the things happening there were as big or bigger than when I went on to work at the Jefferson City Police Department or here at the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “It was a good starting place.”

Woodson is the support services division commander for the Sheriff’s Department. He heads the civil and communications units of the department. He’s also in charge of the department’s school resource officers.

Woodson has served as an SRO and feels they are invaluable for schools.

“You could have a medical epidemic to an active shooter situation taking place in a school that hampers the safety of students,” Woodson said. “The schools know what issues they have to deal with, but they don’t know where the resources are to help them deal with these, and that’s where a resource officer can help.”

Woodson said not one school is alike. Some have problems with assaults, while others could have problems with thefts.

“Those schools could be 10-15 minutes apart and have totally different issues,” he said. “It really depends on the students and what goes on at home with them. That transfers back to what they do at school.”

Woodson also said rural and urban schools often deal with the same issues.

“When the kid comes to school that day, it all depends if they are in a good mood or a bad mood or did something happen the night before that will affect them the next day in school,” Woodson said. “It’s something I don’t think we can fix, but we can watch and with SROs, in my opinion, those individuals are outside the realm of the administration of the school and someone kids can talk to.”

Woodson, who currently represents all SROs on the Governor’s School Safety Task Force, said SROs can establish a bridge or bond with students so they know their job is to protect them but not to be a disciplinarian.

“SROs can be a sounding board for students,” he said. “‘I’ve got something going on at home; can you help me?’ And we say, ‘Sure we can.’ SROs are part of the school, but by not being disciplinarians we sometimes can be more approachable.”

Woodson said SROs tell students that if they give them information they know needs to be passed on to school administrators or the SRO has to take action on, then they will do so.

“I think the students do realize this because it’s for their protection or the protection of someone else,” he said.

Woodson is retired from the Missouri National Guard and deployed overseas from 2003-05. When he returned, he worked as a capital murder crime investigator for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. In 2006, then-Capt. (now Sheriff) John Wheeler asked him to be part of the SRO unit that was taking shape.

“Sheriff Wheeler and Sheriff (Greg) White were partners of mine as SROs at the Jefferson City Police Department, and that’s how they pulled me in,” Woodson said. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Woodson said he believes in education and the benefits it brings to help with other tasks. He went on to get his master’s degree and teach criminal justice classes.

“Take advantage of everything you can,” he said. “With my education I could go a lot of places and make a lot more money than I do here, but to me it’s not about the money. The people that work here and the people I get to work with in the county make it a great place to work, and I want to retire here. It’s truly about your job and how you like your people at your work and what you do.

“I still feel like I can help. When you help someone it’s the best feeling in the world.”

By Jeff Haldiman | News Tribune