Salute the Badge: Chief protects the parks and people inside

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Now that Spirit of Kansas is over and the park is clean, Shawnee County Parks Police Chief Michael Cope can settle back into summer, or at least try.

"Several times I'm getting calls, ‘hey there's a snake over in the gardens.’ It's like okay it's their home,” Cope said. “It's been many years ago but somebody turned a caiman loose in the lake.”

Between snakes and baby gators he’s scaled the challenges for 23 years.

"It's just a different kind of atmosphere,” said Cope. “You're out there trying to help people, trying to educate the people."

That education extends to over 2,600 acres of land in Shawnee County. A lot to police for Cope, his two full-time officers and five part-time officers.

"We run from park to park when we have to,” said Cope. “A lot of them are small community parks and we never have issues with that. It's our bigger parks like Gage Park and Lake Shawnee."

They act like any other law enforcement agency, catching criminals for car theft, fires and vandalism.

"The problem with the car break-ins are, there are people using the trails and they leave stuff in sight,” explained Cope.

However, one of their biggest battles is sometimes what's out of sight.

"We've had our fair share of water related deaths,” said Cope. “The last thing we want to do is work an accident with a boat on a lake."

Swimming is against the rules in Lake Shawnee and on a hot July summers day he spots two offenders cooling off with a dip.

Cope explained to them why it’s not allowed.

"If you're not paying attention to how close you are or how far away from shore you are and if all you have is your head above the water, the boats aren't going to see you and you're going to get hit,” he told them.

"It's kind of a balancing act to enforce the rules,” said Cope. “Plus help the people enjoy their experience in the Parks and Rec. System."

A balancing act that's part of the job, even on a day off.

"My wife and I’s passion is to fish,” said Cope. “We do not come out here to Lake Shawnee to fish this time of year generally because my wife would like me to relax and I find people violating rules and I find myself going over and educating people in my personal boat and not enjoying my time."

Whether he’s fishing or enforcing, Cope says it’s just a joy to be outside.

"You're learning some life skills by being out and intermingling with people,” said Cope. “One of my biggest things I try to inspire in my kids is go outside. It just gives them a different perspective on what is out there really in life."