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Sheriff Strafe: Former Indiana police officer finds success role-playing as video game sheriff

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Posted at 5:56 PM, Dec 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-20 20:54:39-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Sheriff Strafe rode his motorcycle through alleys and across busy streets, chasing a wanted suspect in a black car with his fellow deputies nearby.

The suspect crashed into a wall when an officer caught up with him. While still riding the motorcycle, Strafe drew his gun and aimed at the vehicle. Suddenly, the suspect fired shots at the police. The sheriff opened fire and critically wounded the suspect.

Strafe then turned up his music and yelled to the people watching, “You see those shots, chat?”

The “sheriff” here is in a video game, being role-played by a 48-year-old former corrections officer and law enforcement officer in southern and central Indiana. Strafe did not want to give his real name for concern of "swatting” at his current Johnson County home.

Strafe had a heart attack a couple of years ago, and couldn't continue as an officer, so he medically retired. He enjoyed playing video games, so he decided to try streaming in July.

Being a streamer means people watch him play video games. Usually for Strafe, it's "Grand Theft Auto V."

It's not a normal game. Strafe plays on a special role-playing server, where people take it seriously - very seriously. In the server, you must stay in character at all times, or you could be removed by the moderators.

"It's almost a release for me,” he said. “The things I may have going on here in my personal life don't necessarily translate into the game. If my character is having a great day, then I, in a sense, am having a great day."

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Sheriff Strafe sells merchandise such as mugs, pillows and shirts.

Strafe is the sheriff of Blaine County, the fictional area of "Grand Theft Auto V," which is loosely based on Los Angeles. There are mechanics, EMS personnel and other professions in the game.

"I know what it's like to be a cop,” Strafe said. “So I can take all that training and that experience and translate it into the game and build that immersion up for other players and the viewers watching."

The other members of Strafe's department in Blaine County are also current or former officers in real life.

"All of us in the department have the experience and we give that next level of immersion for the role-play. They know if we say something that's against the law, we're able to articulate that as well as have fun with it in the game."

Strafe said he frequently explains to the people watching and commenting on his stream, known as his chat, why he handled certain situations the way he did. He may explain why a police chase ending in a PIT maneuver, albeit more casually than a real-life officer.

"It makes it a teachable moment to maybe help bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community and explain why certain things are done a certain way," Strafe said. "We were in a pursuit, and he ran over two civilians and wrecked into somebody else, and that's why we pitted him."

What is crime like in Blaine County?

A lot of robberies, he said. There are some drug issues, as well as the occasional kidnapping.

Strafe first began playing video games on PC 20 years ago, but never really found the time necessary to stream until his retirement.

"By the third day [streaming], I was over 1,000 [followers] and I thought, 'Man, this is really taking off,'" Strafe said.

He now has more than 24,000 followers on Mixer, a streaming website to watch people play games. He thinks both his age and the fact he's a former officer contribute to his early success on the platform.

"I never, in a million years, would've imagined the position I'm in now. Every day I go to bed I'm like, 'Oh my gosh, this is just getting bigger, bigger and bigger,'" Strafe said.

He even had to hire a manager to guide him through the newfound success. They assist in sponsorship negotiations and help manage his social media.

"This is a completely new world for anybody," Strafe said. "Let alone somebody that's my age - that's never gamed competitively or tried to make a business out of it. It's completely new.”

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Sheriff Strafe declined to saw how much he makes from donations, but said it was enough to pay off his $18,000 worth of equipment.

He declined to say how much he makes in donations from followers, but said he's been able to pay his equipment off, which cost about $18,000. Earlier in the year, he received an $8,200 donation from a popular YouTuber.

"I'm surviving," he said. "I'm not out buying brand new cars and brand new clothes and a brand new home. But my ends are meeting. It costs money to do this. A lot of electricity with all this equipment and buying games. All that stuff's covered, but not wearing a Rolex or anything."

Next year, Strafe plans on raising money for families of fallen law enforcement officers, K-9 programs for law enforcement agencies and animal shelters.

"I got lucky," Strafe said. "The way I attribute this, you've got that one special individual in high school who is an amazing athlete and he skips college and goes right into the pros. It's a one-in-a-million shot. And I think - I truly believe this was a one-in-a-million shot and everything has lined up perfectly to make it possible and make it work.”