As an officer with the Angels Camp Police Department, Jim McKeon carries a gun, handcuffs, pepper spray and a baton.
Sonora resident and Angels Camp police officer Jim McKeon is a trained magician. Maggie Beck / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
As a longtime magician, he also carries with him a deck of cards, some coins and various props.
“Magic is actually more than just a hobby. It’s part of me,” he said Wednesday, halfway through a 12-hour shift. “Some people like to draw, others like to paint. In my eyes, magic is just another form of art.”
McKeon, who turns 43 today, lives in the Sonora area with his wife and their three children.
During an interview, McKeon performed magic tricks involving his wedding ring and a broken rubber band, and he made a penny vanish and reappear underneath a book.
Another trick involved using a dollar bill as a pretend cop car, while two paper clips represented the “bad guys.” The trick concluded with unfolding the dollar and having the paper clips “handcuffed” together.
“I could do this for days,” he said. “I drive the department nuts.”
McKeon concentrates on what is known as “close-up magic,” which he compared to more the style of street magicians.
At first, magic started out as a curiosity of his. It evolved from learning with books and videos to attending magician school 11 years ago.
“I ended up going to Las Vegas and learning from some of the biggest magicians around,” he said, referring to Lance Burton and Jeff McBride.
McKeon compared performing magic to helping people see the world through a baby’s eyes.
“Being able to amaze somebody — to show them something they haven’t seen before — is pretty cool,” he said.
However, being both a cop and a magician has its challenges.
“It’s hard to do magic in police gear because it’s bulky more than anything,” he said. “My movements are somewhat limited.”
For that reason, McKeon typically keeps easy-to-access “magic supplies” — such as cards, ropes and coins — nearby at all times.
“I like to keep the basic essentials, where I could do a 15 to 20 minute show with what’s basically in my pocket,” he said.
McKeon said he sometimes uses magic on the job.
“I’ve used magic not only to break the ice, but to make people feel better about themselves and what they’re going through,” he said.
He recalled a time he was sent to a dispute where people were screaming at each other, and while standing there he picked up a leaf from the ground, crumpled it and then threw it into his other hand — appearing as a whole leaf again.
“They totally lost concentration on why they were upset,” he said.
McKeon moved to Calaveras County from Southern California as a young child.
His father, a deputy with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department, had just gotten off work one day in 1987 and was on his way to pick-up McKeon, then 16, after football practice at Bret Harte High School when he was hit head-on and killed.
That tragic accident helped shape McKeon’s outlook on life.
“You never know when fate may happen,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re 105 or 45 or whatever the case may be, you’ve just got to enjoy life.”
After high school, McKeon spent four years in the U.S. Navy before attending the police academy in Modesto.
“I probably would have stayed in the Navy, but my heart was in law enforcement,” he said.
Following police jobs in Jackson, Hughson and Sutter Creek, McKeon started at the Angels Camp Police Department nearly 10 years ago.
For years, McKeon was the school resource officer at Bret Harte High and Mark Twain Elementary School. The position was eliminated earlier this year due to budget cuts.
“It broke my heart when they took away that position,” he said. “A lot of people will tell you it takes a different kind of officer to work in the schools.”
McKeon used magic as a way to relate to students, many of whom enjoyed watching his tricks, said Michael Chimente, superintendent-principal at Bret Harte.
“He was a valuable resource,” Chimente said. “Magic was one of the items he used to make connections with students. It was very effective.”
Now a regular patrol officer, McKeon said he enjoys helping people, especially reuniting lost children with their families.
“It’s a feeling like nothing else you can imagine,” he said.
McKeon said he’s professional and is serious when he has to be, but he also likes to have fun.
“One of the first (police) chiefs I had said, ‘you act too much like a child,’ ” he recalled. “I always told him, ‘Grown-ups are boring and the world’s full of grown-ups.’ When I stop having fun, it might be time to retire.”