THOMASBORO — Retired Champaign County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Shumate is back on the job as Thomasboro chief of police.
“This opportunity arose, and I thought, ‘Why not?’” Shumate said. “I’ve got more than enough experience in law enforcement. I was lucky enough to land the position, and here I am.”
His first week of work began Feb. 3. He has tasked himself with making a complete audit of the department, which he described as taking inventory and reviewing forms, equipment and policies and procedures to determine what needs to be updated. Then he’ll “hit the street” to introduce himself around town and to address frequent complaints about traffic and ordinance violations.
“My goal is basically community-policing and being seen,” he said. “I want to make sure business owners know who I am and that I’m available for them. Another priority is the school.”
He plans to meet with school officials to review security and emergency plans.
“Nowadays, even though this is a small village, you never know what can happen,” he said.
Shumate is assisted by two part-time patrol officers, Mike Martinez and Blake Carey. Martinez served as part-time interim police chief.
The experience Shumate brings to the job was gained over 24 years with the sheriff’s office. He was initially hired in 1989 as a corrections officer on the midnight shift, drawn to the job by the pay and benefits. He was one of five or six officers supervising as many as 135 inmates.
“Even in the daytime, you’re still vastly outnumbered. That’s pretty much where I learned to talk to people,” he said. “That was immensely beneficial when I moved to the road as patrol deputy. When you learn how to relate to people, you show them you’re not just a uniform.”
On patrol, Shumate continued to work midnight shift on patrol. He often arrived at a call to find emotions running high. The climate shifted when people recognized him and called him by name instead of just seeing a cop.
“They knew I was firm but fair,” he said.
In 2007 he was moved to the street crimes unit to work undercover narcotics.
“It was fun work. It was exciting,” he said. “It was a whole different aspect of the job because you did take on roles. You were face to face and up front and personal with the people you were investigating and they wouldn’t know it.”
At the same time, he saw the devastating toll drugs take on people’s lives.
“So as much as I was focused on the enforcement aspect, I was interested in helping people out who were addicted (and) get some of them into programs that would help them to the path of recovery,” he said.
His stint with street crimes lasted two years. Then it was back to patrol duty until retirement in 2014. Again he chose to work the midnight shift, preferring the “adrenalin dump” of the violent calls that tend to happen then.
Policing in Thomasboro tends to have less of such action.
“I can handle the slower pace now that I’m a little bit older, and be happy with that,” he said.
When he retired, he took a year off to acclimate himself to life outside of law enforcement.
“Then I got bored,” he said.
He went to work for a private investigator, serving process papers and investigating homicides for defense attorneys.
Shumate’s first day of work included a village board meeting, where he was introduced to the public. It was clear from the welcome he received that he was already well known.
That isn’t surprising because in addition to all those years on county patrol, his family has deep roots in the area. His father farmed first in rural Urbana where Farm and Fleet stands and then near Mayview. He graduated high school at St. Joseph.