Veteran officer retires – sort of

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By Jesef Williams

Tim Witherspoon has been involved with law enforcement since he was 9.

Back then, he was part of the Lancaster Police Department's youth patrol and later became a police cadet, in which he was able to ride around with officers to get a first-hand look at police life.

He knew then that law enforcement was his calling.

Nearly 30 years later and a full cop career behind him, Witherspoon has decided to retire. His last day was Jan. 3.

Witherspoon, 45, was first hired by the Lancaster Police Department in the early 1980s as a dispatcher. Soon afterward, he became a patrol officer. In that position, he climbed to the ranks of corporal, sergeant and, finally, lieutenant.

Witherspoon, a Lancaster native, said being able to help others in his community has been the most gratifying aspect of his 25-year career.

"It's not all about the money – it's about helping folks," said Witherspoon, who was twice named the department's Officer of the Year.

He said the most exciting time in his career was probably when he was with the department's special operations division. Making undercover drug buys was a big part of his duties then. He was part of the division for about 10 years.

He said he liked being able to "get out there with the bad guys" and at the same time help residents feel safer.

"You feel people's pain," Witherspoon said, reflecting on concerns he heard from residents throughout the years. "These folks should be able to stay in their houses and feel safe."

Close calls and touching cases

Witherspoon has been on the pursuit of countless suspects, but fortunately, was never seriously injured. But if it wasn't for fate one evening, he might not be alive today.

After approaching a driver who had been speeding, Witherspoon was met with a loaded UZI.

The driver pointed the gun in Witherspoon's face and pulled the trigger. Luckily, the round jammed, which prevented the gun from firing.

"It was nothing but the grace of God that nothing happened," he said.

Witherspoon was a part of five murder cases throughout his career. The Shelia Jury murder in 2000 was probably the toughest to get through mentally, he said.

A pregnant Jury was shot and killed while in a car at Pardue Street Apartments. Her baby was delivered but died two days later. Witherspoon said it was hard knowing that a baby lost her life so soon.

"That case really took a toll on me," he said.

Reaching the youth

Although Witherspoon officially retired from the police department earlier this month, he will still work as one of two school resource officers at Lancaster High School. He's been in that position since the school year began in August.

Witherspoon believes he can have an impact on local youth.

"I'd like to connect with the kids and be able to show them it's not about getting into trouble and being in a gang," said Witherspoon, who has six children of his own. "If I save one, I feel like I've done something."

Even if he weren't going to remain in uniform, Witherspoon believes that he'd be involved with youth in some capacity. He's brainstorming various outreach initiatives that can rally local teens and mentor them about making wise decisions.

"Tim was the type of officer that was community-oriented," Police Chief Hugh White said. "He's easy to get along with and he's real good for young people."

Contact Jesef Williams at 283-1152 or jwilliams@thelancasternews.com