Former sheriff reflects on years behind the badge

MASON, Mich (WLNS) – He took an oath, and for five decades Gene Wriggelsworth went to work protecting his community.

These days life has settled down.

He’s been retired for two months now.

And while most people only remember his time as Ingham County Sheriff Gene’s been reflecting on a career that started much earlier than that.

And 6 News has the pictures to prove it.

The early 1960s.

Known for the Vietnam war, President John F. Kennedy and the fight for civil rights.

It was also the time high schooler Gene Wriggelsworth seriously considered a career in law enforcement.

It happened after his “wife to be” moved next door to a state police sergeant.

“He was all over me to be a state trooper and I got to thinking, you know, that doesn’t sound like a bad deal,” remembers Wriggelsworth. “And he just kept nagging me and nagging me. And the rest is history.”

And what a history it would turn out to be.

From growing up on a farm to starting out as a trooper at the Michigan State Police Flat Rock post in Wayne County.

And just months into his new career the Detroit riot happened.

“We got shot at many times, but there were snipers and bullets were bouncing off your cars but you couldn’t see where they were coming from so you couldn’t just pull out and start shooting your gun.”

Two years later he moved to the East Lansing MSP post, was eventually promoted to sergeant and started on the Metro Narcotics Squad.

Gene took to the undercover drug seller look well.

“I bought drugs off a guy in Jackson one time. I give him a wad of money and he was on his knees on the floor counting the money,” remembers Wriggelsworth. “His dog started barking and I said, “I wonder what that was.” and I reached into my pants and pulled out my gun and said “Don, you’re under arrest” and he blinked at me a couple times and said, “Gene, how could you do this to me?” And that was a compliment because I had really fooled this guy!”

Current Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth remembers his about his father. “Whereever the drug deals went, dad had to go. A lot of times, be had to go up to the UP. But he was an involved dad, coaching, Boy Scouts, my brothers, he did all that stuff he just wasn’t on an 8-5, Monday through Friday schedule. So that left a lot of the burden on my mom.”

After 14 years though, it was time for Gene to move-on from the Narcotics Unit and the Michigan State Police.

And it was then, in 1988, he decided to take a crack at the sheriff’s position in Ingham County and won.

“The Sheriff’s office was a mess. It was poorly managed, and I’m being kind,” recalls Wriggelsworth. “I took it over and I was determined to make it what it should be, a highly respected, efficient law enforcement agency. And I think I’ve done that. I never claim perfection. We certainly can improve, there’s a number of different areas where we can improve on, but, we gave it the best with that we had available to us.”

Seven terms and 28 years later, and after 50 years in law enforcement, Gene says he knew it was time to retire.

And he’d already been grooming his perfect replacement.

“This really started about 10 years ago. I announced my candidacy back in January of 2015,” Scott Wriggelsworth says. “Then we’ve been able to make this journey together and it’s been really great for me to have my dad as a mentor. He’s on speed dial if and when I have my first issue that I’ve never dealt with before. And if I need a word of advice, I know who I’m going to call.”

Gene’s retirement plans include a little bit of traveling, spending more time with his grandkids and continuing to volunteer and mentor in the community.

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