Sgt. Ron Gibson’s interest in technology led him to pioneer video forensics at the Detroit Police Department and set case law on the subject. But years before that, it landed him in jail.
Gibson, a lifelong Detroiter, was born on April 20, 1957. In high school he developed an interest in working as a police officer thanks to a program that placed two officers at his school. A self-described “computer kid,” he wired a scanner into his car’s power source so he could hear what was going on in the city.
But that’s a no-no, legally speaking.
“I was on my way home, actually coming up my street, and three officers from the 12th precinct stopped me. And next thing I know I was being arrested,” Gibson said.
He spent time in jail as a high school senior for the crime, though he’d eventually plead down and get it off his record. The judge was understanding of his policing ambitions, but the precinct’s detective wasn’t.
“I remember talking to the detective at the 12th precinct, he was a very rotund, unfriendly person who made it very clear that my n-word butt would never be a police officer,” Gibson said. “And I’m one of those people that, don’t tell me what I’m not going to do. So I pushed on.”
He hired on at the Detroit Police Department in 1977. At 6-feet, 2-inches and 180 pounds he was a bigger guy, so they chose him to work special operations. Later he’d work as a detective. He helped found the public correction unit, helped form a department-wide policy on how to handle nonfatal shootings and also started the department’s work on video forensics.
That last one was a direct result of Gibson’s lifelong interest in technology and computers. When he worked a shooting he would see more and more surveillance cameras that may have caught clues to the crime.
“Back then we’d have to call the Michigan State Police, wait three, four hours for them to show up,” Gibson said.
Gibson, with the department’s permission, pursued an international video forensics certification on his own and strung together equipment on a budget so shoestring it was profiled in a national government video publication.
Back on patrol now, Gibson said policing has changed for the better in his 40 years of service. When he first joined the force, he said, there were problems with how they patrolled. One thing he’s picked up is treating everybody with respect.
“You learn, and I learned from a couple very good officers, give everybody ‘sir,’ ‘ma’am’… you give them their respect, you don’t disrespect them in front of their families, things like that,” Gibson said.
And he never forgets his own experience. One mistake doesn’t have to be the end of anybody’s road, he says. It wasn’t for him.