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From inspired to inspirational, Shelby Stillwagon is newest member of Village police department

People by: Chrissy Ruggeri, October 3, 2022

Shelby Stillwagon was hired as a full-time Northport Village police officer last year.

Shelby Stillwagon is one of the newest members of the Northport Village Police Department, hired as a full-time officer last month. Her placement has fulfilled a dream she’s had since the fifth grade and comes after many years of hard work and dedication, even as a young girl going through the Northport school district.

Something about the presence and role of a police officer caught Shelby’s attention when she was just ten years old. “I grew up here and whenever I saw them, I always watched what they did and wanted to be just like them,” she told the Journal in an interview on a Village Park bench.

Shelby is soft spoken, yet confident. To say she’s a go-getter is inadequate; her achievements have been calculated, planned from a young age, and she’s willing to work harder than anyone else in the room to get what she wants – something she’s proven over and over again.

Once Shelby realized that she wanted to serve on the force, she started watching television shows involving police work. In class, she’d draw pictures of herself in uniform. In high school, she joined the Explorers Program, offered by Suffolk County, which provides young people with education and training in the law enforcement field. She attended the junior police academy when she was just sixteen years old and, with visions of her future always in mind, made some tough decisions about her personal life.

She explained that many choices made in her teenage years were based on her career goals. “Through high school, you get so many kids being peer pressured into doing things,” she said. “But I knew I wanted to be a police officer, so I made a lot of decisions to leave my friends, let them go to the parties and ‘have fun,’ and I’d stay home because I didn’t want to get into trouble.”

A 2017 Northport High School graduate, Shelby spent two years at Suffolk Community College, where she got her associates degree in criminal justice. She received her bachelors in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. During her last year of college, Shelby attended the police academy part-time, on weekday evenings and Saturdays. In the spring of 2022, she graduated from both the academy and John Jay.

The 23-year-old is also a black belt in jiu jitsu, a feat she accomplished in four years – the fastest time to achieve this level in her Kings Park dojo. “I decided to do jiu jitsu and I went up to the sensei and told him that I wanted to be a black belt before I went into the police academy,” she said. Her sensei was supportive, but said she’d have to work hard.

Shelby received her black belt three months before entering the academy. “I was dedicated and I wanted it,” she said, explaining that she attended classes three days a week, in addition to taking two weekly private classes and practicing at home. “I wanted it as my background because I wanted to be a police officer, and I knew that being a black belt would help me in that and even on a regular day-to-day basis, in case anything happened,” she explained.

In May 2022, Shelby started her field training with the Northport Police department, while working as a part-time officer. After field training, she went straight to foot and marine patrol (she has her coast guard captain’s license). She occasionally served as a “matron” for Northport as well, a female officer who is called in to observe when a woman is arrested.

As an officer, community connection is important to Shelby and she believes it will make Northport an even safer place to live and visit. She’s well aware of her position as a female officer, one of only two women serving on a force made up of 18 members total. Young girls love seeing her in uniform, Shelby said, and she loves their reactions.

She’s hoping to start a program that creates opportunities for students within Northport to interact and be inspired by their local police officers. “I want to get more involved with the teenagers around here, and little kids, to show that we’re here to help,” she said. Shelby wants to be present as an officer, especially for young boys and girls (emphasis on the girls). She’d like the public outreach experience to be like Suffolk’s Coffee with a Cop, but maybe call it “Cone with a Cop,” she said.

Shelby is also fluent in sign language and she’s learning Spanish. She recalled a recent moment on the Village dock while working. An older gentleman who was deaf, she said, signed to her and she signed back. “He just lit up” and was pleasantly surprised that she answered him. “That’s the kind of thing that I want to do – I want to make people’s day,” she said.

Shelby’s long-term goal is to be the first female chief in Northport, but she admits that she has a ways to go. “Getting this job proves that hard work and dedication make your dream become a reality,” she said. “It might take a little while, but you’ll get there.”

Right now, Shelby remains focused on her job and helping people in her community. “I’m super excited about this career and I can’t believe I’m actually here,” she said.