Fulton County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Goodson has led an interesting life. Born and raised in Chicago, Goodson moved to western Kentucky just after high school. From 1992 through 1996, Goodson worked in the public-safety sector as an emergency dispatcher, an EMT for an ambulance service, a volunteer firefighter and a deputy jailer. In 1996, Goodson began his law enforcement career with the Clinton Police Department in Hickman County. ‘They gave me a badge and gun and paid me $5.25 an hour with no benefits whatsoever.’ His agency polices a unique geographical feature in the New Madrid Bend. In order to access the Bend, deputies have to drive through a portion of Tennessee. That one facet makes life interesting for Goodson and other deputies in Kentucky’s western most county, located on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The New Madrid Bend is mostly farmland. Some families live out there. I think there are five families. We don’t have a lot of calls down there. We try to go over there and drive through periodically. Much of what you get at the Bend is log-truck problems, traffic problems and things like that. We get many complaints about truck drivers tearing up land or they’re somewhere they’re not supposed to be. There aren’t a lot of places out there to begin with. The main road goes into the Bend. You have to go through Tiptonville and crossover into Tennessee for several miles in order to swing back up into Kentucky. It’s just a little area.
You have to have a good working relationship with the sheriff’s offices in Lake and Obion counties (Tennessee). If something happens down there in the Bend, Lake County has always been good about sending deputies out there to stand-by because they can get there faster than we can.
It’s the same thing in Obion County. We have the city of Fulton in this county. It’s right on the state line. The state line runs through town. It’s actually one big town, but you have Fulton, Ky., and South Fulton, Tenn. It’s a logistical nightmare when you’re a cop. People will try to determine if you were a Kentucky cop or Tennessee cop, and depending on the answer, they will cross the street and be in another state. You need to have a good working relationship with Tennessee officers in order to make sure things run smoothly.
There are all kinds of horror stories about the city of Fulton back in the day. There were times when an officer or deputy had to do a field sobriety test. We had to say, ‘Sir or ma’am, can you step back up here?’ What they are doing is getting the person back in the state of Kentucky in order to do the test.
I’m from Chicago, so it was a bit of a culture shock moving down here. The people here are great. My kids go to school here, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. You have to have a good working relationship with the community when you have a five-plus person department. In Chicago, if somebody talks to you, you’re automatically suspicious of what they’re doing. They’re pessimistic, and everybody is out to get you. It’s very depressing. I’m glad my kids go to school here.
I like to talk and problem-solve. You can do that in any career. Patrol is always fun because you never know what you’re going to get into as far as working traffic or working out on the parkway. I like to think I’m multi-faceted. There’s not one thing about this job that I like more than another. [Working as a court bailiff] was something new to me when I came to the sheriff’s office. You can get a lot of good information in court if you pay attention. It can be a valuable tool, as far as being a sheriff’s deputy. I really like people. That’s why I got into this line of work, because I can talk to a wall.
Helping people makes me smile. When you’ve made it to the end of a case and somebody says, ‘Hey, I appreciate that,’ it’s a good feeling. It doesn’t have to be a case. I can help somebody unlock his or her car, and it makes me smile. We have a great challenge in law enforcement because of all the negative press, but when you see kids coaching youth football, and you have a kid who isn’t afraid to come up to you and say, ‘Hey, when I grow up, I’m going to be a cop,’ I always say, ‘Great. Go to college before you make the decision.’ When you have kids who are interested and the public is interested in what you’re doing, it’s a great feeling.
I’m sure a cop in a larger city can attest to this, but for us, a major problem has always been that it’s one person against the world here. Generally, we will have a deputy out and we might have a special deputy out with that deputy. The city of Hickman might have an officer out and the city of Fulton might have two officers out. If it is 3 in the morning, your backup could be 15 to 20 minutes away, and that’s probably the best-case scenario.
When I worked in Hickman, I didn’t know the town at all, and we had a shooting. Someone drove by a building and he got off about six or seven shots and drove off. [Hickman Police Chief] Tony Grogan and I went up there and, of course, the state police showed up and Fulton police showed up before everyone realized no one was hit. We started looking for shell casings, I’m diagramming the scene and putting down markers, I was stepping back, and all of a sudden the ground was gone. It turned out I fell in a hole about half the size of a desk. One of the man covers sank, it was about four and a half feet deep, and I just fell into this big hole. Everyone saw me. I got out and dusted myself off. I’m glad it happened during the pre-cell phone era, or else, I would be famous for that.