Shelby police chief reflects on 30-year career before retiring

SHELBY, N.C. — A small-town chief who captured a national spotlight and led his department through a deadly shooting that rocked the City of Shelby is stepping down after 30 years.

Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford stopped packing for a bit on Friday to reflect on his career with Channel 9′s Ken Lemon.

Ledford said he learned his first rule about policing on way to his first shift in 1992.

“I came in to work and got locked out of the police department. I was so new I didn’t know where to go or how to get in there,” Ledford said.

He said from that day forward, he vowed to know where he was going.

In June 2015, Ledford said an unexpected event occurred, but his team was ready.

Dylann Roof was arrested by his officers after he shot and killed nine Black churchgoers at a bible study in Charleston.

“I had no thought that he would come through here,” Ledford told Channel 9.

Ledford said he quietly made a call to the Charleston Police Department before media from across the globe descended on Shelby.

“We got him. To be able to at least bring that closure to them, that meant something,” Ledford said.

The following year, Ledford said K9 officer Tim Brackeen was shot and killed while serving a warrant.

“There are some sad parts you look back on,” Ledford explained.

Ledord could have retired in 2020. But COVID shut down the city, then a cyber attack knocked out every city-owned computer, then George Floyd was killed by police in Minnesota.

“[The year] 2020 just changed policing. It changed our world in so many ways,” Ledford reflected.

Ledford said relationships he already built with Black pastors carried him through that year.

There is no record of a longer-standing police chief in Shelby, but Ledford said he is ready to pack up all of the items on the wall and hang up the uniforms. He has five more days on the job.

“I finished this chapter and I’m ready to go to the next one,” Ledford said.

Ledford said he will leave one thing for his successor, a mirror perfectly positioned so that every time he leaves his desk he has to walk right by it. He said he did that to remind himself that he was responsible for everything that happened within his department.

An interim police chief within the department has been named. City officials said they will soon begin looking for a new chief for the first time since 2007.

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