As he walked toward a Sedalia Middle School fifth-grade classroom on Wednesday, Sedalia Police Department Officer Michael Elwood was greeted with a chorus of “Hi, Mr. Elwood,” and offers to high-five. After being given a handmade, oversized card for recently being named the SPD’s Officer of the Year, Elwood quickly got down to work, teaching about the dangers of drug use.
“I really enjoy being involved in DARE,” Elwood said after the class. “I had a high school buddy who experimented with drugs and he lost everything — his family, his friends and really his future. I lost touch with him because of it and I always thought if I could have helped him get off drugs what would have happened. This is my way of helping.”
Elwood’s commitment to DARE is just one of the many reasons he was chosen as Officer of the Year, said Cmdr. Larry Ward.
“We don’t have quotas here, but Elwood definitely sets the bar for activity,” he said. “He also never complains. If he’s asked to do something, he does it right away and with a smile on his face. But the thing is, he’s sincere about it. He really does want to help in any way he can.”
A career in law enforcement was always in the back of Elwood’s mind — his father was in the military — but it wasn’t until he started volunteering with the Columbia Police Department that he considered a career change.
“At the time, I was working with Special Olympics and I really loved what I was doing,” he said. “It was a very tough decision to make, switching to law enforcement, because working with Special Olympics is so rewarding. But I found that working in law enforcement is just as rewarding, but in a different way.”
Elwood attended the academy part-time, taking classes at night, and graduated in 2010 at the top of his class. Ward said during Elwood’s job interview process he immediately stood out.
“A lot of times you can tell pretty early on if a person is going to be a good fit for the department, and Elwood was definitely that,” he said.
Nearly two-and a-half years since he was hired on at the SPD, Elwood has developed a routine to cope with working the 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. night shift, teaching DARE in the afternoons and a commute from Columbia, where he, his wife and daughter
“I sleep in the closet downstairs (at the police station),” he said with a laugh. “It’s actually not that bad, I have a cot.”
After working his 12-hour shift, if he has to teach DARE the next day, Elwood will stay at the station, getting up in the afternoon to teach then going back to bed for a few hours before his next shift starts. It’s a routine he doesn’t mind, but is hoping to break when his family moves to Sedalia this summer.
“I didn’t mind doing it this way or the commute, but it’ll be nice to have that family time back. That’s what I’ve really missed,” he said.
“We’re all very glad he’s moving here and putting down roots in Sedalia,” Ward said. “That’s something that worries (the command staff) sometimes, that officers will get burned out after a few years and want to move on to something bigger. But I don’t think that will happen with Elwood. He’s shown he wants to stay in this community.”
Elwood said he enjoys life as an officer and while he may want to eventually move up to the investigations or drug unit, he’s happy where he is now.
“I love my job,” he said. “I think if you can find a career where you’re happy with what you do and enjoy going to work everyday, you’re pretty lucky. I know I’m pretty lucky.”