Crawford County Sheriff’s deputy and former DNR captain retires after 41 years in law enforcement
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A police officer who was involved in a number of violent encounters as he worked his way up the ladder with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), wrote thousands of traffic tickets, and handled recreational patrols in the area, called it a career after nearly 41 years in the field.
Jeffery Pendergraff was recognized by the Crawford County Board of Commissioners and the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday, Oct. 17 for almost 16 years of service to the community.
Pendergraff was raised and went to school in Flint. He then joined the U.S. Army and served in the Military Police for two years in Germany and one year in Virginia.
After his service to the country, Pendergraff hoped to join the Michigan State Police. However, the state was not hiring any troopers at the time. Instead, the DNR received permission for the state police to hire eligible law enforcement officers.
Pendergraff went through the State Police Academy and worked his first years as a conservation officer in Flat Rock, covering Wayne County.
“It was busy, busy all of the time,” he said. “Besides doing all the fish and game stuff, you were always running into a lot of crime.”
While following a lead on a minor case, a man attacked Pendergraff, and tried to take his gun and kill him. While showing his partner where the man lived, officers came across a car where a female hitchhiker had been kidnapped and was being sexually assaulted.
“It was kind of a real coincidence, because had that assault not taken place on me, I would never been there,” Pendergraff said.
While on duty, Pendergraff came across a lot of people with guns, since there were no concealed weapons permits back then. As he was patrolling for people shining and poaching deer near a farmer’s field in the early morning hours, Pendergraff nabbed some burglars who were trying to break into the farmer’s home.
“That was bad timing for them,” he said.
In 1989, Pendergraff was promoted to serve as a sergeant to supervise officers in Macomb County and St. Clair County. Through law enforcement networking, he met his wife, Amy, who was serving as a trooper for the New Baltimore Post of the Michigan State Police. The couple has one son and two grandchildren.
While in that position, a man tried to run over Pendergraff with a truck.
“People are serious about their poaching,” he said. “They think they’ve got a right to do it and not be harassed by law enforcement.”
After nine years in that position, Pendergraff was promoted to serve as lieutenant for the Gaylord District Office, which covered eight northern counties in the northern Lower Peninsula plus Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
During his time at the district, a man pointed a gun at Pendergraff and his partner.
“We were able to take cover and convinced him to put down his weapon,” he said.
Following that assignment, Pendergraff worked with a DNR investigative undercover unit that traveled throughout the state and nation.
He was then promoted to serve as captain of the DNR’s southern zone, which covered 43 counties and included 150 officers, five lieutenants and 18 sergeants.
Pendergraff stepped up to serve as chief of the DNR’s law enforcement division for several months. He then returned to his role as captain and retired from the agency in 2003.
Pendergraff said the general public has a misconception that DNR officers only handle recreational laws dealing with hunting, fishing, boating, ORV, and snowmobiling.
“You’re always backing up other law enforcement officers,” he said. “Although your main job is one thing, you’re always running into a lot of other things if you are out there doing your job.”
In 2004, Pendergraff started working at the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office as a marine patrol officer.
He then worked as a road deputy for two years.
In 2010, a Grayling man attacked Pendergraff as he was responding to an assault-in-progress complaint and the suspect attempted to take his firearm.
While Crawford County Undersheriff Shawn M. Kraycs deployed with the Michigan National Guard to Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pendergraff stepped up to help with the day-to-day operations as the undersheriff.
For five years, Pendergraff was the seasonal traffic officer for the sheriff’s office during the summer months. Spending most of his time patrolling M-72 West, where the speed limit is 55 mph, he would chase people down traveling 70 mph up to 90 mph. He issued 5,000 traffic tickets for speeding as he devoted all of his shifts to patrolling traffic.
“During the summer time, there are a zillion people coming through Crawford County trying to get to the west for summer recreating and they’ve all got to come back through,” he said. “When they’re all doing that, they all come flying through.”
For the last couple of years, Pendergraff served as an ORV officer for the sheriff’s office.
He said he has enjoyed serving the community as he rounded out his law enforcement career.
“I didn’t work here because I had to. I worked here because I enjoyed it and to keep myself busy,” he said. “It’s always been fun coming to work. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Pendergraff said he would miss intermingling with people and being there to help them out.
“It’s been a pretty unique career of almost 41 years. I’ve run into so many great people. Just like right here in Crawford County, we have a great sheriff and we’ve got a great undersheriff. It’s very low key and just a lot of great people. I’ve met a lot of great people all over the state,” he said. “I’m glad to be finally hanging it up, but I’m going to miss it some, too. I’m going to miss the people.”
Crawford County Sheriff Kirk A. Wakefield praised Pendergraff for his service to the county for filling in when and where he was needed.
“Over all these years that I’ve been in law enforcement, you see guys come and go,” Wakefield said. “When Jeff came here, he just hit the ball out of the park. He’s versed in everything. He’s helped us out tremendously with state grants for all of our special services – snowmobile, ORV, and marine. He’s got just a wealth of knowledge, and I’m sad to see him go, but things change and you move on. Jeff has been a great asset to us, and he’ll be greatly missed.”