Salute the Badge: LPD's Mik Shanks has shaped careers here and in Kosovo

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Officer Mik Shanks still remembers his first patrol car, a “little, bitty car (that) had Mickey Mouse lights on the top.”

That was 33 years ago. While the bad guys have gone from imaginary to real, the Lawrence Police officer says his passion for the job hasn’t gone anywhere – in fact, it’s taken him overseas.

“I’ve seen a lot. Everything from births to deaths. I have been present when people have been delighted with being reunited to, unfortunately, being there when people have been told they’ve lost their loved ones,” he reminisced, adding that he wouldn’t change a thing.

Shanks didn’t even wait until he graduated to join a police force, starting out with the Topeka Police Dept. while still attending Washburn University’s law school. That reserve role quickly became so much more, offering him a lifetime full of memories, seeing both people’s best moments and their worst.

After his reserve position with TPD came to an end, Shanks moved on to the Douglas Co. Sheriff’s Office, before joining the Lawrence Police Dept. in 1991. While most of his career has been spent in Lawrence, he put that on hold in the early 2000’s to help train officers in Kosovo, which was still emerging from the brutal Kosovo War a few years earlier. After decades under the yoke of Soviet Communism and years of wars for independence, the not-yet independent nation was still getting used to how law enforcement should work in a free society.

“They were not allowed to question the police. They were not allowed to say ‘hey, this is not right,’ or they were not allowed to go to their government and say, ‘hey, we don’t want our police doing this.’ They were just told to do this and if they didn’t do it, they were forced to do it,” he explained.

He spent two years living in the former Yugoslav republic, which at the time was under UN administration, working to get illegal weapons off the street. He was also tasked with helping build a police force. The experience, he says, opened his eyes to the different approaches some police forces in other countries work.

“Some police officers are tasked with protecting peace and public safety. Some police officers are tasked with keeping the elephants off the runway, and so those are two extremes and they’re both police work but they’re just two different ways of looking at things,” he detailed.

The lessons he picked up training Kosovar police, in turn, helped him when he returned to Kansas. He spent the next eleven years serving as a Field Training Officer, molding the next generation of officers here and reveling in their successes.

“One of my rookies became my supervisor. That can’t make me any more proud,” he smiled.

While that rookie may have been promoted past Shanks, that’s not because he hasn’t had opportunities. Rather, he prefers staying on the streets during the twilight years of his career, keeping the city he loves safe.

“I like to be able to choose and pick where I go,” he said. “I can’t do that when I’m at somebody’s whim.”

Shanks also finds a way to help his fellow officers. As a Vice-President of the Kansas Fraternal Order of Police, he says he is able to help them at the state level.