By Ainsley Trunkhill
While former Reno County detective Sheldon Stewart may have physically hung up the badge, he carries with him his 25 years of law enforcement as he accepts the position to be the new Department 2 Co-Chair at Hutchinson Community College.
Department 2, which covers Agriculture, Ag-Diesel, Automation and Electric Technology, HVACR, Welding, and Merge Programs, will present a new challenge for Stewart, a previous criminal justice instructor. A new challenge, however, mimics the unpredictability that originally enticed Stewart into police work.
Graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree in biology and plans to be a game warden, Stewart instead grew captivated by the ever-changing daily duties of a police officer.
“It was the cliché … you just want to help,” he said. “You just want to make a difference.”
For 25 years, including 17 of those as a detective, that’s exactly what Stewart did. In 2014, he took on a role that allowed him to make a difference in a new way – teaching.
In discussing the difficulties of a police officer, Stewart said “the toughest out of all of it would have been anything to do with children. . . up to the death of children.” As he aged out of active police work, he became capable of focusing on, rather, the future of children as a teacher.
Stewart’s experience in law enforcement gives him a unique advantage in teaching criminal justice.
“The one thing that I enjoyed about Sheldon teaching is that it’s all from experience,” said Ashley Garcia, a former student of Stewart’s and current Reno County deputy. “He told his own personal stories and what things (were) like through his career.”
A common issue in many new law enforcement officers, likely fueled by TV shows like “NCIS and “Law and Order”, is the disparity between expectations and reality. By connecting the textbook to real life, Stewart said he hopes to divert this issue.
In 2019, COVID forced the HutchCC criminal justice program completely online, which has yet to come back in-person, intensifying an already-difficult human dynamic in the classroom.
COVID, however, hasn’t been the only challenge facing the program. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and All Cops Are Bastards have galvanized the public against the police force. An inward look at systemic racism from these groups, accompanied by globally-encompassing social media, significantly harmed public opinion. Consequently, enrollment in criminal justice classes has dropped.
This year in August, the local arrest odd Allen brought this discourse to attention once more. Allen, an ex-Reno County police officer charged with multiple accounts of sexual assault and kidnapping, displays an instance of an officer abusing their power for a decade.
“It pisses you off,” Stewart said. “Good cops don’t want bad cops around.”
Stewart, with a Blue Lives Matter flag hung above his head in his office is Shears Technology Center, remains optimistic that this pendulum swing against law enforcement can result in positive change.
When Stewart retired officially from the police force, he was required, under stipulations, to retire from teaching as well in 2021. A year later, he came out of retirement to accept an administrative position, while still heading the criminal justice program at HutchCC. Despite little expertise in the individual fields of Department 2 that he now oversees, Stewart has countless years of qualifying leadership experience. His experience includes serving as an undersheriff for four years and graduating from a leadership training program from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. Stewart said he is grateful for the department that he inherited and hopes to maintain what his predecessors created. He is still, as a personal philosophy, constantly looking for change and improvements.
“I’ve got some ideas. They’re just that right now … ideas,” Stewart said.