Last updated on September 30, 2019
In the course of setting up the Lodi Valley Chronicle and making connections, I had the opportunity to interview (thn Interim) Police Chief Wayne Smith. At the time a member of the Columbia County Sheriff’s department, Smith had been assigned to the Lodi Police Department since May of this year. Smith’s official appointment as Chief of Police was announced on September 20th
A Long and Eventful Journey
A graduate of Deforest high school, Smith’s original interest was finance. A ride-along with Dane County Sheriff’s Office, however, changed his mind. “It was a good experience on that ride-along, and it felt right.”
That change of mind sent him off to school for law enforcement. His first job was as a jailer in Key West, Florida. The high cost of living, however, brought him home to Wisconsin, where he signed on with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department as an undercover investigator. Thirteen months later, he transitioned to patrol, and has spent the past 30 years rising through the ranks.
Over the past 30 year with the sheriff’s department, 3 pivotal murder cases fell in his lap–each by an odd twist of fate: Jeffrey Dahmer, Marilyn McIntyre, and Beth Kootz. Those three cases, says Smith, formative and pivotal in shaping his approach to law enforcement.
I Just Want to Make Lodi Better.
Smith brings a community-centered, common-sense approach to law enforcement.
Columbia County [Sheriff’s Department] has always been good to me. They trained me well. I had always intended to remain there. After I’d been down here [in Lodi] for a while, Isaw what needed to be done, got involved in it… I developed a real responsibility for the department and the people here. And the community as well.
That “sense of responsibility” is what stands out when speaking with Chief Smith. When talking about his role in the community and his role as the leader of law enforcement in Lodi, he doesn’t talk about catching criminals, but rather on protecting the community and helping to guide it.
Our goal is to keep people safe, allow their free movement throughout society without risk of harm, that obviously requires that rules and safety [protocols] be followed. So, unfortunately, at times we find ourselves having to enforce those things.
Smith’s takes a more tradition–or “old fashioned”–approach to how the police interact with the community’s citizens and businesses. His goal is to build strong relationships, listen to the needs of the city, and align the role of the police with the best outcomes for the city.
We’re here. We’re staying here.
That idea of helping people and giving back to the community is a recurring theme for Smith. Throughout the interview he reiterated that “enforcement” is not the first option–especially when dealing with students and young members of the community. He believes that education and intervention are more valuable and have more potential to prevent bad situations in the future.
Not everything is perfect, however. Smith acknowledges that there are issues within the department, and knows that he has to work to solve those issues. The biggest of those issues, he feels, is officer retention.
Lodi has a significant problem with maintaining staff, and retaining them. It’s incredibly expensive to hire an officer, train them… only to have them leave. There are four things I have identified that I believe I, as a leader, have an ability to affect… And that’s good leadership, good training, good equipment, and competitive pay.
Smith admits that even if all four of those goals are met, Lodi is still a small city and young people looking for more excitement won’t remain here; they’ll go somewhere busier. “And by ‘busier’, that means more crime. And I don’t think any of us want to bring more crime here” he said with a laugh.
When asked for any final comments, Lt. Smith summed it up:
It’s a great profession, it’s a great career–if you’re here for the right reasons.
My own impressions, and those of the citizens I spoke with, say that Chief Smith is here for the right reasons.
A Lodi native, Blaze attended the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay where he graduated with a degree in theatre technology & design. He has traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world–including a 6-year stint in China. He has been a teacher, a writer, a designer, and is the founder of the Redleaf Consulting Group.