The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

May 23, 2013

Davis leaves law enforcement after 41 years

DANVILLE — As among the most veteran members of law enforcement at the Public Safety Building, Jerry Davis says the lessons he’s learned from others have kept him working for so long.

Davis, who is 61 years old, is officially retiring this month after 41 years of law enforcement in Vermilion County. He started for the Westville Police Department in 1972 at the age of 20. A year later, he moved on the county sheriff’s department where he worked in the old county jail, on patrol, on the Metropolitan Enforcement Group and, finally, in Investigations since 1981.

Looking back, Davis contends advice he received early during his days playing basketball in high school has allowed him to stay in law enforcement.

Along the way, help from his late brother and even longtime hunting partner Don Merlie have kept him in the right frame of mind.

“Maybe that’s why I made it as long as I have,” he said. “Learning from Merlie, my basketball coach in high school, my brother: You make the best out of the situation and don’t worry about things I couldn’t change.”

“My dad was always big on telling me: Never think you’re better than anybody else,” Davis said. “And I try to carry that onto the job.”

He added 41 years has gone quickly for him.

“I’m leaving behind a lot of good friends,” Davis said.

Right now, Davis is among a select few. Only four remaining members of local law enforcement at the PSB can lay claim to careers of comparable length: Cliff Hegg, Director Larry Thomason, Deputy Director Doug Miller, all Danville police officers, and Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn.

Things have changed in 41 years during Davis’ tenure. Squad cars that used to come equipped with a camera, a finger-print kit and a tape measure now include a laptop computer and up-to-date radio communications equipment.

Davis said when he started at the sheriff’s department the squad car he drove was just that — his.

“Back when I was working patrol, they never had county-owned cars,” he said. “You purchased your own cars. You were given about $450, which would include car payments, insurance and fuel and maintenance on the car.

“That was usually a losing proposition,” Davis added. “When you had breakdowns, the car allowance never covered everything.”

The sheriff’s department switched over to using county-owned cars by 1979.

Crime numbers also have seen a shift during Davis’ time with the sheriff’s department. Patrol shifts that now work to cover the entire county 24 hours a day used to be an unheard of concept.

“In the old days, on the night shift after 5 p.m. you’d be lucky to have two cars,” he said.

“Sometimes in the county you might be the only person on after 5 p.m.,” Davis said. “So you depended on the small towns to assist you.”

In addition to the advice he’s lived by through the years, Davis said he’s also worked well by counting on local businesses, county officials and contacts in other law enforcement.

While he’s enjoyed his work, Davis admits not everything was perfect. His tenure included the loss of two deputies, most recently Sgt. Myron Deckard in 2001 — which he calls probably the worst year he experienced.

“I was able to stick with it because I had people that were very supportive,” he said. “But I had a lot of second thoughts” about staying in law enforcement at first.

Part of the difficulty he faced was the fact Davis turned down the prisoner transport assignment in which Deckard died.

“It hit me personally because you never thought about if you had taken that trip, or someone else,” Davis said. “And I was thinking, ‘Would his fate had been any different if I’d been riding in that car?’ And that’s something you’ll never know.”

Davis cared for foster children for a number of years and now has grandchildren that he hopes to spend more time with as a result of his retirement.

He said cases involving children of all ages are a little more prominent in his memory.

One of the cases he will not forget is the day a teenage girl crashed her car and died on the bridge south of Georgetown on her way to school. Davis said he was shooting pictures of the accident scene when he was hit with an epiphany about how precious life can be.

“I mean, one minute you have a family with a beautiful daughter heading to school and the next minute life’s ended,” he said.

“There’s times you try to get used to that and not let the cases bother you, but that’s not the fact,” he added. “You become a part of those tragedies a lot of times. They say you can’t be personal, but a lot of times you can’t help but be personal.”

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