The McLean County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the career of George Ballard Friday who retired from law enforcement after a collective 30 years in the field.
Born and raised in Owensboro, Ballard, 56, became fascinated with the world of law enforcement at a young age.
“When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my dad had friends that were state troopers,” Ballard said. “One of them would come by the house and let me get in his state police car … and I was hooked then.
“When you saw that police car or that state trooper’s car and that uniform — it’s just something about that personality of that person that you knew they were in charge and you knew something that you’d call on (them) and (they’d) get it done. They would take care of you and do whatever it took. I’m very blessed that the law enforcement I grew up around was very much into public service and were there if people needed them and that kind of drew me to (the profession).”
Ballard decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps in 1982 and went off to training after graduating from Owensboro Catholic High School in 1983.
He served four years starting out as a cook by trade before becoming part of the field operations team helping with supervision, where he managed to get two deployments in Honduras in 1984 and Okinawa, Japan in 1986 and 1987.
“I never actually had to cook that much,” Ballard laughed. “I was primarily out in the field helping out.”
Upon arriving back to Owensboro, Ballard found employment with the Owensboro Police Department in January 1989 working as a field training officer and spent five years in the evidence crime scene unit — working on cases ranging from thefts to homicides. While at OPD, he was selected to work on the bomb squad when the police department decided to reintroduce the program as the squad’s commander.
Ballard said that working in the bomb squad capacity challenged him and others to think more creatively.
“You have the normal things that you would deal with (such as) discarded ammunition, old dynamite in a barn; but when you’re actually dealing with a potential of an IED (improvised explosive device), you almost have to think outside of the box,” Ballard said. “…Sometimes you have to take a different approach when you’re dealing with those things.”
He said his experiences working in crime scene unit and the bomb squad were similar, pointing out that the objective was “looking for the unknown, looking for what you do know and looking for what might be there, what should be there.”
“You’re constantly thinking on your toes …,” Ballard said.
Ballard retired from OPD in August 2009 and worked with his family’s excavating and utility contracting business, R.A. Alexander & Sons, Inc., which he has often worked for throughout his life and started working there full-time as of Monday post-retirement.
“When you’re in law enforcement, your head is on a swivel and you’re 24 hours a day thinking,” Ballard said. “You’re on call for what the public needs. …It’s a different (type) of thinking.”
However, Ballard said he was still heavily involved in the Fraternal Order of Police Owensboro Lodge #16 during his retirement from OPD which influenced him to reconsider along with his own personal memories.
“Other than the military, there is no job that carries the camaraderie of law enforcement such as taking care of each other,” Ballard said. “I just missed it, to be honest. I missed working with the public. One of the greatest joys you ever get as a police officer is when a little kid walks up and hands you a stuffed animal or something and says ‘thank you.’ There’s nothing that compares to that feeling.”
Ballard decided to jump back into law enforcement in 2012 working at Daviess County Detention Center for about nine months before signing on as a deputy in McLean County in 2013.
Ballard was familiar with then-McLean County Sheriff Frank Cox and worked with him on several previous occasions and thought it was a good place to restart his career.
He began as a road deputy working night shift while he also became in charge of the county’s evidence room.
Upon Sheriff Kenneth Frizzell winning the 2014 election, Ballard was promoted to sergeant where he was responsible for scheduling and training before being promoted to lieutenant, effectively making him third in charge in the command staff.
“I was very fortunate that the sheriffs respected my work and moved me up accordingly …” Ballard said.
While Ballard said being there for the public was pivotal in both counties, he said that McLean County was different as it is more agricultural-based, which was a shift in terms of the population that he served previously.
However, Ballard recalls nothing but positive experiences in his last nine years.
“The people of McLean County are friendly; it is a good county; it’s got good people in it,” Ballard said. “I’ve had friends I’ve known my entire life that lived in McLean County, so when I went over to McLean County to work, I kind of had my foot in the door. …McLean County just kind of took me right in.”
Now heading back into a more 9-to-5 role with the family business, Ballard said that he will miss the personal connections that he would make on a regular basis when out on patrol.
“Being over there for nine years, I was watching some of the families that were now having kids and watching their kids grow up,” Ballard said. “The interaction with the public, (especially) those good interactions with the public — they just give you a good feeling knowing that you helped somebody out and you’ve done something to help somebody. It gives you a really good feeling and it’s hard to replace that in any other field ….”
Ballard is grateful for what he has been able to do in career and does not take it for granted.
“I am very blessed; between the Marine Corps and law enforcement and my multiple jobs in law enforcement, I’ve had a chance to travel halfway around the world and back again,” Ballard said. “It gave me an opportunity that a lot of people wouldn’t have (because) I was able to travel a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to see people from all over the world and all over this country and different lifestyles. That stuff you just can’t buy and that’s an experience that I wouldn’t give up for anything.”