BANGS — Surrounded by friends, colleagues and city officials at City Hall Friday morning, Bangs police Sgt. Mike Isbell fended off a good-natured barb.
“Quitter,” a man called out as Isbell prepared to cut a decorative cake, baked in his honor.
Isbell, accompanied by his wife, Cindy, was recognized as “a good man and a good police officer” at a barbecue lunch as the 63-year-old veteran officer retired from the Bangs Police Department. His final shift ended at midnight Friday, although his employment officially ends Sunday.
Isbell, who was born without a left hand, has been able to work as a police officer despite having only a right hand. He spent four years with the Bangs department but had a longer career with other departments, much of it as a reserve officer with the Brownwood Police Department and Brown County Sheriff’s Office. Isbell also previously worked as a broadcast journalist and was previously known on local radio as Mikey Wayne.
Never disgrace or dishonor the badge
Police Chief Jorge Camarillo presented Isbell with the Distinguished Police Service Award, consisting of a medal and a framed certificate, from the American Police Hall of Fame. Camarillo said as long as he’s chief in Bangs, Isbell’s badge and badge number — 401 — will never be worn again.
“I always thought they gave things like this to guys who did something really outstanding, or the guys and gals who died in the line of duty,” Isbell said. “I still don’t know what I did to deserve it, but it is appreciated.”
Isbell explained the significance of wearing a badge. “This chunk of metal that hangs on my shirt — yeah, it conveys authority,” Isbell said. “But it belongs to everybody in the city of Bangs. I don’t own this. The police department doesn’t own it.
“The people of Bangs own this, and being allowed to wear it is not only an honor and a privilege, it shows that people have put their trust in you. And under no circumstances — no circumstances — are you to ever disgrace or dishonor that badge because of the people that put it on your chest.”
First retirement was short lived
Isbell said he tried to retire in 2014, before joining the Bangs Police Department, but that only lasted seven days. The Bangs department was down to one officer, and that officer was about to leave. Camarillo was about to begin his tenure as police chief but had not started work.
Mayor Eric Bishop persuaded Isbell to start working part-time for the department, to help out as the new chief took over and the department was restaffed. In December 2014, though, Isbell’s status changed to full time, and he stayed.
Camarillo said he’d wanted Isbell on his three-person force because of Isbell’s experience. Isbell not only knew the law, but he knew how to apply the law, Camarillo said. “It’s there in black and white, but you’ve got to know how to apply the law,” he said. “He’s done a great job.”
Isbell’s retirement leaves Caramillo and officer Gregory Parrott as the department’s only officers, but Camarillo said he’s looking for a new officer as well as more reserve officers.
‘We want you’ in police academy
Isbell, who is from Ranger, grew up in Gorman. He was working as a police beat reporter for an Austin radio station in the 1980s when a Travis County sheriff’s lieutenant — who also coordinated the Central Texas Council of Governments Police Academy — asked Isbell if he’d consider going through the academy.
Isbell said he would — if a man with one hand would be accepted. “We want you. We want to see if it would work,” the lieutenant told Isbell.
Isbell completed the academy and graduated in 1988, finishing fourth in his class. Because of his disability, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement “allowed me to do things the way I needed to do it as long as it had the appropriate outcome,” Isbell said.
’Disability is up here’
Isbell said his disability did not affect his ability to handle suspects, and he demonstrated how he would apply handcuffs one-handed. Nor has it affected his ability to ride his motorcycle or fly his ultralight plane.
When asked his his disability has stopped him from doing anything, Isbell replied, “It stopped me from doing a lot of things because people didn’t think I could do it. I was often judged based on what people thought I couldn’t do instead of what I can do.
“Disability is up here,” Isbell continued, pointing to his head. If you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”
Isbell said he’s been accepted “for the most part” by officers with other agencies, although there were “certain individuals that questioned my ability.”
In retirement, Isbell said, he’s going to “take it easy. I’m going to plant me a big garden, raise my honeybees, my chickens. I’m contemplating being a school bus driver for the Bangs school district.”
Asked again if he can think of anything his disability prevents him from doing, Isbell replied, “Yeah, I can. I can’t be a lifeguard because all I can do is swim in a circle.”