The First Responder Spotlight Series features law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and other emergency personnel who have made a career out of serving our communities – often in ways we never see – each and every day. The series is sponsored by McKeithen’s True Value in Statesboro.
Trooper Stephen Spires hasn’t always called Georgia ‘home.’ Growing up in a military family meant he took up residency in a number of places, including England, North Dakota, the Philippines, and Texas, before settling back in Georgia for good.
In 2016, he started a career with the Georgia Department of Corrections, working at Telfair State Prison in McRae-Helena. Though he already had experience with people from varying walks of life, the corrections background, Spires says, propelled that insight to a different level. “Just learning how you can level with people and understand them so much when you treat them first with respect and then just listen to them. I’m going to do my job no matter what, but there’s no reason for me to do it without considering how everything I do is going to impact the other person,” he said.
Spires was a Sergeant in a lockdown unit when a coworker suggested he apply for Trooper school with the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
“The person told me, ‘You’ve seen how this side works, what happens when they go behind bars, maybe you should see if you can try to prevent them from coming back here.’ and my only thought was, ‘Well, it can’t hurt to try.’”
Spires applied to the 108th Trooper School and embarked on the journey to gray and blue in September 2019. After graduating, Spires was assigned to Post 16 in Helena, though he’s moved around a good deal to account for shortages since that time. GSP assigned Spires to Post 21 in Sylvania in fall of 2020 after less than a year in Helena, to Post 45 in Statesboro for another year after that, and then back to Sylvania in October 2021 – where he’s been ever since.
The job can be tough at times, especially when working serious injury crashes where children are involved. “You don’t forget that. I’ve got a four-year-old at the house. It doesn’t leave you,” he said, elaborating that it’s difficult to see an innocent passenger hurt or killed because of the preventable actions of their parent or caretaker.
The tough parts can’t be canceled out entirely, but they are certainly outweighed by the preventative actions he has the opportunity to facilitate.
“It’s hard to explain. Stopping someone who has their kids in the car with them and they’re not buckled up, it’s a tough thing to do, but being able to stop them prior to something happening, explaining what could happen in an accident a mile down the road…because I’ve worked that accident. Knowing on that day, I stopped something bad from happening for those people, that’s one of the better parts of the job,” Spires shared.
But there’s more to ‘prevention’ than traffic and motor vehicle safety. Early on in his interview, Spires mentioned the transition from corrections to State Patrol, in part, to prevent people from ending up in the system. When asked if he believed he was accomplishing that, Spires answered affirmatively. “I talk to people all the time and tell them ‘This is going to be as bad as you want it to be. It’s either a mistake and an experience you learn from, or it’s much worse, but you decide.”
Working at a number of posts within Troop F has afforded Spires the opportunity to interact with a number of supervisors and fellow Troopers who he now sees as mentor and influential persons on his career. He cited Post Commander Eric Wilkes in Helena and former Troopers Kyle Turner and Jacob Thompson as people he admires for various reasons. They’ve also influenced the advice he offers to others who may be considering going into law enforcement.
“Just treat people with respect. You have no idea how far that will get you,” he said.
It seems like a simple approach and one Spires says has diffused situations in corrections and in the state patrol, but that doesn’t mean his family doesn’t worry. “They know the job is dangerous,” he said when asked about family. “But they’re tremendously supportive.” In discussing family, though, Spires also mentioned dispatchers. “Dispatchers are our lifelines, ya know. When you’re the only person out there…our only help, hope, or whatever else, is them.”
For now, Spires really enjoys working in the region he does and Post 21 covers Screven, Jenkins, and Burke counties. The area means he patrols some of the most rural parts of the state, often alone, but it isn’t something he would trade. “There’s a different level of appreciation in rural communities, for the most part,” Spires said. “There’s a lot more respect with the community because you know them and they know you. You get to build that rapport.”
“But there’s also a sense of togetherness. It’s our job to stop and see if people are OK, to see if they need anything on the side of the road. But whenever I do, there’s two, three, or more people who stop, too, just to check on someone else…showing that everyone’s not just out for themselves. People do still care, contrary to popular belief. I like seeing that.”
Spires is engaged to Bailey Hendrix of Nevils. They’re set to get married in Screven County in August 2022.