Like many who grow up in a law enforcement family, following in his stepfather’s footsteps was furthest from Shawn Dodson’s mind.
In fact, Dodson instead pursued science- and business-related degrees first at Labette Community College, then at Pittsburg State University. He even earned a master’s in business administration from Amberton University in Texas.
Rather than go into law enforcement, Dodson planned to go into the restaurant/hospitality business.
In 2000, Dodson reassessed his career path. Returning to Southeast Kansas, he joined the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.
Later, he worked for the Labette County Sheriff’s Office, the same department once led by his stepfather, Tom Bringle.
In 2009, he joined the Joplin Police Department as a training officer. This summer, he became the sergeant in charge of JPD’s internal affairs division.
The new role, he said, will help him foster accountability within the department as he strives to maintain policies and procedures.
“We investigate any charge or complaint of misconduct,” Dodson said. “So everything is done appropriately.”
Joining the JPD
Dodson came to JPD at the encouragement of a friend in the department. The recently passed public safety tax and the department’s plans for a training facility and new academy were key factors in his decision.
An adjunct instructor for the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, Dodson knew the move would allow him a spot in the emerging program.
“I’ve been an instructor ever since I’ve been here,” Dodson said. “I am fortunate enough to fulfill my goals.”
Eventually, Dodson was named the sergeant over the training program as department officials built the training facility. He remained in that role until June 1, when he transferred to the internal affairs division.
Dodson learned about the importance of serving the community by watching Bringle.
“He was out in the community all of the time,” Dodson said. “We were constantly going to different community events. He was well-known. He was engaged in all of the communities — even the smallest little communities.”
Dodson said as he looked for a new career path, he became intrigued by his stepfather’s experience as a sheriff — especially with how much Bringle enjoyed the job.
“The best part of policing is the constant variety in the work we do throughout the spectrum of human interaction,” Dodson said. “No day is the same. It’s a combination of that and being able to be helpful. I enjoy the variety of interactions.”
Changing face of law enforcement
In the past few months, Dodson has worked alongside others in the department trying to understand COVID-19 and its impact on policing.
He said one of the struggles involved not only gathering accurate data concerning the illness but also transmitting that data to the officers so they could still do their jobs and be safe.
“Procedurally, the policy is and was the same, but the way we responded to calls became a little different,” Dodson said, adding dispatchers began asking callers medical questions and officers began wearing masks while working the streets.
The weeks since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis have also provided a learning experience for the department.
Dodson said he strives to be very cognizant of things going on within society. He sees law enforcement as an impartial organization that enforces the law without taking a political stance.
“With my training background, I look at our organization versus other organizations to see what they are doing and what we are doing,” Dodson said, adding he tries to provide the best resources possible for his officers. “The more resources, the better we get.”
Training, he said, involves reinforcing safe practices that allow officers to stay safe while doing their job.
Dodson said he hopes community members realize the effort JPD officers put into keeping themselves accountable and upholding proper practices.
“When it comes to our agency, we want citizens to know we are working diligently to always be the best we can be,” Dodson said. “We are human beings constantly in the middle of bad situations. We are called to (people’s) worst day. In everybody’s worst day. We do all we can to do the right thing and take care of the community.”
Dodson and his wife, Sarah, together have two children: Madison, 22, and Keatyn, 10. Dodson said he hopes his youngest sees someone who takes the profession seriously but also genuinely cares and loves the community.
“I want her to grow up to be an independent thinker willing to help anytime she can,” Dodson said.
Beyond the badge
Dodson volunteers with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and its Leadership Joplin program. He’s also helped with Tomorrow’s Leaders Today, which helps high school seniors get a taste of city government.
“As a young adult in college a lot leave, but I hope they see what Joplin has and what is available here,” Dodson said. “I hope they get a great education and come back to the community when they are ready.”
Dodson said he’s continually inspired by people — he’s always looking for the “golden nugget” of information he can use for inspiration or guidance.
“I’m always looking for good information to potentially use or to pass on,” Dodson said, adding much of his free time is spent reading books that help expand his leadership skills.
He jokes many see him as an academic type of person, but he loves to attend rock concerts. COVID-19 has postponed at least four concerts to date. One has been rescheduled for 2021.
He encourages people to be true to themselves, as well as intentionally deliberate in their actions and decisions.
“Nothing should be auto,” Dodson said. “Always be critical and think things through. Be deliberate about your actions.”