COLUMBIA — Betty Westbrook recalled a Christmas night when her son left a family gathering to respond to what turned out to be a false burglary report at a nearby home. Detective Westbrook arrived to find an elderly woman by herself. He asked the woman if she had any coffee or cake and spent several hours providing company to the lonely woman.
“He has a heart as big as a Volkswagen,” Police Chief Ken Burton said.
After 22 years of service, Detective Jeff Westbrook has retired from the Police Department. Westbrook has spent his entire life living and serving in Columbia.
Colleagues said he will be missed for more than just his service, but for his deeply caring attitude.
Mike Griggs, a lifelong friend and fellow graduate of Hickman High school said the fact that Westbrook and his high school sweetheart, Sheri, are still happily married is a testament to his character. Griggs said Westbrook is an “exception to the rule.”
“If you get a ticket from Jeff, you must have really done something wrong,” he said.
Westbrook earned a psychology degree from MU in 1981 and did not always know he wanted to go into law enforcement. He said he applied for the department after a recommendation from a friend
“I kind of fell into the job,” Westbrook said.
During his career at the Police Department, Westbrook often patrolled the streets of downtown by bicycle and served as a D.A.R.E. Officer.
Retired police captain Doug Schwandt said Westbrook was an exceptional storyteller and that children in the D.A.R.E. program were drawn to him.
“I bet if kids from years ago saw him today, they would still remember him,” Schwandt said.
In 1998, Westbrook was one of the founding fathers of the Domestic Violence Enforcement Unit. He specialized in dealing with victims of domestic abuse.
Jody Henry said her brother used to play banjo at family gatherings and is an avid reader. She said he once participated in a book club in which he was the only male member.
“He was an advocate for both men and women,” said Henry. “He served the community well.”
At Westbrook’s retirement ceremony, the walls of the Police Training Center were cluttered with family, colleagues and people from all throughout the Columbia community. Open seats were few and far between.
“This kind of turnout is unusual,” Chief Burton said of the crowd.
Westbrook said one of the difficulties of the job is that it is often thankless. He said after his first year on the job he realized he couldn’t change the entire world at once.
“Its about the individuals,” Westbrook said.
After two weeks of vacation, Westbrook will be taking over as Director of Safety at The Columbia Insurance Group.
He addressed the community as a uniformed officer for one final time. He said many officers will not wear their uniform at their retirement ceremony because they are burnt out. Not the case with Westbrook.
To close out his law enforcement career, Westbrook borrowed from a speech Joe Friday gave to a rookie officer on his favorite childhood show, Dragnet.
“I’m damn glad to be one of you for the last 22 years,” a choked up Westbrook said.