Citizen Potawatomi Nation Police Department Patrol Officer James Berry held several jobs before working in law enforcement: construction worker, rancher and computer numerical control machinist, to name a few.
He joined the Tecumseh Police Department in 1998 and moved to the Tribe in 2004, making this year his 15th anniversary with the Nation. Berry said he wanted to become an officer since watching cop shows as a kid and feels “naturally born to do this.”
“I’m really good at de-escalating things or people when they’re excited. I can get them to calm down. I’ve always been good with people,” he said.
“I know that people get into situations that may be bad, and sometimes — a lot of times — maybe it’s not their fault. I don’t judge everybody.”
However, Berry’s layers extend far beyond his uniform.
After living on a small farm outside of Hinton, Oklahoma, working with his hands was instinctual. He harvested corn and peanuts and helped maintain the property throughout his childhood. Now, as an adult, Berry takes on “all that old country stuff that nobody does anymore,” including making butter, canning vegetables and making jerky.
“I had a buddy tell me once, ‘You’re the only person I know who could go out in the woods with a knife and live like a king,’” Berry said. He takes it as a considerable compliment.
He participates in nearly every hobby imaginable with an impressive set of skills developed throughout his life, which include firearm modification, woodworking, crafts and more.
“Growing up, we didn’t have a whole lot of money, and my dad wasn’t able to work. But he did a lot of stuff around the house, and he was really good with woodworking and stuff,” Berry said. “I kind of picked that up. … You couldn’t afford to buy it; you had to make it.”
“I know the first gun I got, I was about 7 years old,” Berry said. “My dad gave me my first .22 pistol, and I’ve had some type of firearm ever since.”
Placing him in a category beyond “enthusiast,” his continually expanding collection ranges from M1911 pistols to .22 hunting rifles he uses to hunt small game. He believes firearms’ resale value prove their worth as an investment and enjoys shooting, cleaning and learning about them.
“If you have one, and you shoot it and depend on it, learn how to take it apart and put it back together. Learn how the parts work,” Berry said.
His pet peeve? Moisture.
“If they get wet, I’ve got to take them apart, clean them and oil them and put them back together. I do,” he said, laughing.
Learning how to modify and customize his pieces seemed like the next step to filling his knowledge gap, and Berry began watching YouTube videos a couple of years ago.
He learned how to shoot on an M1911, and he and his dad have always owned one. Since he began teaching himself customization, Berry rebuilt one from a used model with all new high-end components. After polishing it off, he took it to the range.
“I told my brother I’d make him a happy face, and I shot it out. It was pretty funny. A guy next to us, he kind of leaned over, and he’s like, ‘I can’t believe you did that.’ And I said, ‘It’s a good gun,’” Berry said, smiling.
He also modifies Glocks, plastic-framed pistols named after the founder of the European firearm development and manufacturing company. He improved his shooting accuracy on two he owns by eliminating the finger grooves to fit his hand better. Next, he wants to obtain his Glock Armorer’s Certification.
Berry creates projects out of scrap wood, including one chair “strong enough an elephant could sit on it.” Two of his favorite pieces include a one-of-a-kind hatchet and knife stand to display gifts from a friend and his brother as well as a Roman centurion stand explicitly built for his officer’s uniform.
“I hang my vest on it. Holds it up and allows it to air-dry, and then I can hang my belt. And it’s got a wooden base at the bottom I put my boots on and put all my stuff on,” Berry said.
He and his brother, Wes, also developed a weekend side-business constructing Wahoo board games. While playing Wahoo, players roll dice and strategically move their colored marbles around the board and back to their home spaces without being caught, much like Chinese checkers or Aggravation.
Berry and his brother drill holes to fit the marbles and create the game paths then smooth out the wood and stain them. They also customize orders depending on the look, colors, number of players and more. One woman wanted a piece for her family that was 2 1/2 feet by 2 1/2 feet with the board in the center.
“She wanted like an actual table; so we made the top, and then they put a base on it,” Berry said.
They began making Wahoo boards roughly four years ago when Wes wanted one that looks like the game they played on as children.
“That had got lost or misplaced or something like that years ago,” Berry explained. “(Wes) said, ‘Well, let’s make one.’ So, I made one, and he took it to work, and everybody wanted one.”
Since then, they have sold approximately 700 boards and shipped them around the world. Their Etsy shop, RusticTime, achieved the highest rating on the homemade and vintage goods site. The boards sell for between $25 and $50. Each game comes with the dice, marbles and directions in a velvet bag, “just like you would get out of the toy store,” according to Berry.
Officer Berry’s friends, family and co-workers wait with anticipation for the next project out of his garage.