Officer’s hardships spark desires to protect UNT

Omar Mir | Staff Writer

The sky turned its deepest shade of pink as loud roars filled the brisk autumn air.

The Mean Green were taking on Rice at Apogee Stadium, and the roar was the crowd celebrating a score as the words “Mean Green touchdown” resonated throughout the stadium and most of campus.

Far behind the commotion of the game, the bellowing fans and the trumpets of the ‘Mean Green’ brigade stands a 6-foot-6-inch man, arms crossed, observing the thousands of people surrounding him in section 109.

With a cold poker face, the world around him goes into an absolute frenzy. He remains cool as ever in his uniform, as it is time to escort thousands of fans safely out of the stadium. Another day, another football game. Through the madness, he wouldn’t trade a second of it.

Officer Gerald Shepherd has been with the UNT police department for almost a decade now and has been in law enforcement for over 15 years. Memories of patrolling football games are just a small part of Shepherd’s daily life.

In his time as an officer, Shepherd has worked in juvenile detention, a special removal unit for the Sheriff’s department and now works as a campus patrol officer at UNT, keeping students, faculty and visitors at UNT safe.

Growing up has its hardships

Gerald Shepherd grew up in Denton as the middle child of three siblings. His parents were a big influence in his life. Shepherd said he wouldn’t be where he is if it was not for the way they brought him up.

“The way I was raised, I was always gonna have my jeans on, shirt tucked in and belt buckle gig line straight,” Shepherd said. “That’s how I was raised.”

He said he remembered middle school as being a great time, where after school his friends and he rode bikes into open fields while trying to shoot birds with little pellet guns.

“They called it southeast Denton,” Shepherd said. “Across the tracks, under the bridge, if you look real close there’s a sign there, right after the train tracks. It says southeast Denton.”

Shepherd was always athletic. He was 6 feet 4 inches his sophomore year and took part in almost all the after school sports, including football, basketball and even track.

It was the track where Shepherd truly found himself. He held the school records in high school and won the 2000 and 2002 conference championships with the UNT track team.

 During his senior year he injured himself, pulling his hamstring during practice, and that was when Shepherd realized he would never be able to participate in track like he used to.

The multiple scholarships that were coming his way as he went into his senior year quickly became an afterthought.

“I was never the same again,” Shepherd said. “It was a huge setback. I banked on it.”

On Friday April 14, UNT police Officers Gerald Shepherd (left) and Chad Terrill (right) talk outside of the Gateway Center before heading back out on patrol. Katie Jenkins

Despite this, Shepherd continued his education at UNT, graduating with a sociology degree. His love of sports, family and Denton quickly came together, paving the path to working in law enforcement.

When his father passed away in 2008 of pneumonia, Shepherd’s desire to protect other people and their families’ memories grew strong.

“In reality I feel like when people pass away they are supposed to leave you stronger,” Shepherd said. “That right there, it helped me not fear anymore. Dad was a big guy, 6 feet 2 inches, worked as a foreman all his life. He would’ve been proud to see me as a police officer.”

Protecting the future

It was not long before his senior year in high school when Shepherd had a son. Devon is currently 13 years old, but Shepherd can’t help but think about the environment his son grows up in daily.

Through the hardships he’s gone through, he hopes to help enlighten his son’s generation, including UNT students, in regards to topics such as police brutality and gun control.

“It is what is being taught to that person when they are growing up, at the end of the day,” Shepherd said.

He hopes to break common misconceptions about police officers by showing a humane side to the tough persona police officers present.

Shepherd recalls a time after a plethora of recent incidents involving police brutality across the country when his son asked him why police officers were acting out in such a manner.

“That person, at that moment, lost the reigns of the authority and the power that he had, and he acted on his own,” Shepherd said. “That wasn’t the authority and the power we were given to act that way.”

He mentions it is a lack of basic communication proficiencies that lead a few police officers to ruin the reputation of so many others, such as when officers act out using their guns rather than the various tools police officers are trained in.

He implied more than half the job of being a police officer is effective verbal communication, as well as being physically fit and mentally aware.

Shepherd also stressed on our self-control as humans and reiterated his notion of the root cause to this behavior, saying it can sadly happen anywhere.

“Regardless of people wanting to call it discriminate or racial, or whatever it was, I tell myself you can never totally control another person,” Shepherd said. “They have to keep the reigns on themselves. They lost the reigns.”

Shepherd said he has been disappointed and disheartened to see such violence repeating itself.

Shepherd said he feels that is a standard we feel across UNT – a standard of excellence, safety, integrity and maintaining a general cohesiveness with the students and faculty around campus.

“He’s very patient with the community,” said Anna Rodriguez, Shepherd’s friend and UNT police station dispatch supervisor. “In special situations, he has [a] calmness about him. It’s his best quality. He treats others with respect and it shows how he is respected around the community.”

The UNT police might have garnered a reputation for pulling too many people over, but Shepherd makes sure the community knows that UNT is home to everyone in the community, including the officers. He said all they are trying to do is protect their home court.

That’s exactly why he wants to help make sure UNT itself never has to experience that sort of heartbreak.

“We hold each other as a higher standard,” Shepherd said. “When you see such things happen, you say to yourself, ‘I need to make sure this doesn’t happen here.'”

Featured Image: On Friday April 14, UNT Police Officer Gerald Shepherd poses for a photo inside his vehicle. As a police officer with the University, Officer Shepherd works to keep the campus safe by responding to service calls, patrolling the campus, monitoring traffic, and helping with investigations. Katie Jenkins

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