ESCANABA - Escanaba resident Jim McNeil's last day as a law enforcement officer was Monday but he still plans to make the community a safer place. After serving 28 years as a cop, he's retiring from Escanaba Public Safety and will be working for Bay College as its emergency management coordinator.
Many area residents recognize McNeil, 50, as the school liaison officer for Escanaba Area Public Schools. From 2004 to a year ago, he held this position until budget cuts in the city put him back on the road full-time. Because of his connections, he continued to respond to any concerns in the local schools.
"The school system is a flag bearer for the community. We should all support this strong educational beginning for youth," McNeil commented. "Helping youth through problematic situations is something I will miss."
Though he has experienced several horrific memories of working as an officer in the schools and the city, McNeil said he will treasure the positive impact his work has had on area students.
"I really enjoyed working with kids, school teachers, and administrators and building positive bridges between parents, the school, and police," he said during a break in a jury trial he attended Monday.
McNeil said a priority as a police officer has always been to make the community safe.
"I would do anything to help kids and parents to make the child feel safe in school," he said. "My ultimate goal was to make the schools safer."
While serving as school liaison officer, McNeil said he built up a trust with students, as well as the school personnel and social workers he often worked with in dealing with different situations. Many times kids would ask McNeil for help with problems before they would approach their parents or teachers, he said.
"Over the years, being in the school, you build that trust and confidence with the kids," he said, recalling instances when kids sought his help with bullying, drug abuse, child abuse and sexual abuse.
While these were situations he had to react to, McNeil also presented educational programs in the schools to prevent bad things from happening.
With the elementary students, he conducted programs regarding bicycle, fire and personal safety. With the older students, he often spoke about drug and alcohol awareness.
In addition to offering a listening ear, conducting preventive programs, and responding to crimes and minor issues, McNeil hopes that his presence in the schools may have prevented negative behavior.
McNeil began his law enforcement career following his 1984 graduation from Ferris State University where he earned a bachelor degree in criminal justice and his certification. His first jobs were working part-time - at the same time - on road patrol for Alger County Sheriff Department and Munising City Police.
After a year in Alger County, McNeil worked as a police officer at Gladstone Public Safety for three years before being hired at Escanaba Public Safety. He worked at the local police department for 23 years.
"I am indeed honored to have worked with so many people who truly believe in 'protect and serve.' Escanaba is fortunate to have this kind of dedication," he commented. "I will miss the professionalism exhibited every day by people who strive to make Escanaba a great place to live and raise a family."
McNeil's family includes his wife, the former Sue Pearson, a teacher's aide at the intermediate school district's learning center in Escanaba. They have a daughter and a son: Katie (Josh) Culliton, of Flat Rock, and Jimmy McNeil, a sophomore at Escanaba High School.
During the Escanaba City Council meeting on Thursday, council declared June 21, 2012 as "James D. McNeil Day" in honor of his retirement and service to the community.