Suffolk Remembers Former Chief of Police Gilbert “Spud” Jackson

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, June 11, 2024

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Suffolk is sharing memories of the man they knew as “Spud.”

Following last week’s passing of Former Chief of Police Gilbert F. Jackson on June 4 at the age of 89, many who knew and worked alongside him are sharing their memories of the man who led the Suffolk Police Department from November 1976 through July 1996 and the impact he’s had on them. Calling him “a good, decent, honest man of principles,” Suffolk Clerk of the Circuit Court Randy Carter, Jr. shared his memories of Jackson, noting they first met in 1986 when he started handling cases with SPD.

“He was marine through and through. I’m not a Marine. But he was marine through and through,” Carter said. “And you saw the things that he developed from that to make himself as Chief of Police. He was honest, always honest, never had a problem. He defended his people when they needed defending and he just ran a good department. Everybody knew what they were supposed to do.”

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Retired SPD Lt. WM “Wally” Bunker, who started with SPD on Oct. 15, 1977, and worked 19 years with Jackson, emphasized how important he was for its development.

“There were a lot of things that this guy did to further the department that is immeasurable,” Bunker said.

Along with Jackson pushing forward department advancements with the Crime Line Program and various technological innovations, such as computer-aided dispatching, automated record keeping and the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS), Bunker says Jackson helped bring forth SPD’s Take Home Car program.

“…when it happened, he was able to give anybody that lived within the city limits and had passed probation, they got a car to take home. And if you didn’t live in the city, they had what was known as a ‘semi-personalized’ car. So they would assign two people to a car … So if you lived in Chesapeake, they shared a car with somebody who lived in Norfolk,” Bunker said. “But the cars weren’t on the road 24/7 like they were in the past. Maintenance was less and officers were more responsible for their cars because they had to make sure the oil was changed and all that stuff. It was a great program. As far as I know, it’s still in effect today, and he was the one that wanted to do that.”

Bunker noted Jackson’s love for SPD underneath his “gruff and straight forward exterior.”

“…He could be very gruff, but he also had a soft side to him, and he wanted nothing but the best for that department,” he said. “That was his baby…” 

Bunker also noted that Jackson was “very proud” to hire an Evidence Technician and a Crime Scene Investigator towards the end of his career. Joan Turner of the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office thanked Jackson for hiring her as the city’s first Crime Scene Investigator on Jan. 2, 1996.

“I thanked him often in giving me this wonderful opportunity to not only assist the detectives and officers in so many various crime scenes, [but] searching for evidence, processing evidence for fingerprints and possibly DNA and transporting evidence to the State Laboratory in Norfolk, VA,” Turner said. “…Chief Jackson will be missed by so many and those persons I know [have] so many wonderful stories that can be shared. I wish his family peace and comfort during this time of their bereavement and the days and years to come.”

Planning Commission Vice Chairman Mills Staylor also commented on Jackson following his passing.

“Chief Jackson (Spud) and I got to know each other back when he was Chief. He asked me to serve on a Citizen Advisory Committee that was reviewing candidates for promotion within the Police force,” Staylor said. “One thing led to another and we shared some time on the golf course. He was a great individual and we were very fortunate to have him as one of our early Police Chiefs here in Suffolk. He was fair to all he came into contact with and was very respected by his fellow police officers.”

Likewise, Retired Chief of Police William A. Freeman, hired by the Nansemond Police Department on Nov. 21, 1971, as a patrolman and served SPD following the 1974 city merger, talked about working with Jackson throughout his career.

“I’d like to describe it like this – he started out as my supervisor, as a mentor, and then a friend,” Freeman said.

Noting his command presence as a Police Chief, Freeman praised his leadership during the difficulties that followed the city merger. 

“You don’t normally have the opportunity to start a police department from the bottom, and I had the privilege of kind of working with them when they initially got it started, then by working with him and understanding what that department meant to him and what it should mean to us and the community. Suffolk was going through a transitional period at that time because we were merging a county and the city together, and I don’t know if you can imagine two police departments being formed with one mindset,” Freeman said. “It was almost the end of the Civil Rights period, very active, and there was a sense of apprehension on the community’s part with regards to law enforcement and he brought that sense of professionalism and held us to a higher standard of how we should conduct ourselves. And most of all, to a sense of integrity and being truthful. That was paramount with him.”

Getting to know the man behind the badge, Freeman reflected on conversations with him during their careers’ early stages.

“There used to be a place where people smoked and he was standing and he would call it his ‘veranda’ and he’d stand there and talk if I am coming in or going out and he stopped me and he started talking. But a lot of it was about life, and about people, and sometimes questioned why people couldn’t get along. Just those types of conversations,” Freeman said.

Likewise, Freeman reflected back when the Special Investigations Unit was organized by Jackson, which Freeman was lieutenant and in charge of. Freeman says that Jackson would “pop up on the scene” in an area he called “Little Korea.”

“Because the names were like ‘Kissimmee Avenue,’ ‘Osceola’ and those names like that…and he recounted to me numerous times, even the last time I talked to him, which was in March… He says this little lady, little African American lady walked by him and mumbled something to him. And he thought, ‘Oh man, they’re gonna give us a hard [time]…’ But she turned back around and came back and she whispered to him ‘God bless you,’” Freeman said. “And he says it just tore him up. Each time he told me that, he just got so emotional because he saw that that was the most simplest form of ‘protecting and serve’ and it didn’t matter who the individual was. And it meant a lot to him.”

Lastly, Karen Rouse, Jackson’s daughter, also took the time to reflect on her father. Rouse says that Jackson was a “very disciplined” and “very proud man.”

“He gave his best at whatever he attempted, and therefore, he expected his children to do the same,” Rouse said. “That has definitely stayed with me throughout my life and it has helped me in my accomplishments.”

Rouse emotionally talked about the sacrifices her father would make for his officers, reflecting during the holidays.

“If they had to work during Christmas and those who had children, he would take the shift for them, and he and I had a Christmas tradition that I would make some dessert tarts and take them to the officers who were working the holidays,” she said.

Finally, Rouse expressed what she wanted people to know about her father.

“As a young boy, he knew that he wanted to dedicate his life to service and helping others, and knew that he wanted to go into law enforcement to do that and that’s what he did. He dedicated his entire life to the city and its [many] people,” Rouse said. “He was rigid, stern, but his heart was big and his love was deep.”