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A 'Cop's Chief' pulls the pin after 47 years on the job

Chief Edward Kondracki Jr. believed police officers should “Walk softly, but carry a big stick”

There is a legend at the La Crosse Police Department that Ed Kondracki Jr. was born in the back seat of a patrol car. As the story goes, his first bunting was a squad jacket and he cut his teeth on a police sap. “Cops like that don’t ever retire,” was everyone’s natural conclusion, who pondered Kondracki’s success and longevity in a profession that can chew up the strongest and spit them out.

Needless to say everyone was shocked when Chief Edward Kondracki Jr. announced he would be retiring after 47 years of service — 28 in Milwaukee and 19 in La Crosse.

From 1965 to 2012 Edward Kondracki Jr. experienced law enforcement from every possible vantage point. He began his career as a foot patrol officer in Milwaukee. Police Officers had no walk units in those days and received calls via strategically-located call boxes.

(Image Courtesy of David J. Marcou)
(Image Courtesy of David J. Marcou)

A Routine Stop
One memorable night, when in a patrol car-ambulance Officer Kondracki pulled over a driver who had run a red light. The suspect’s suspicious behavior moved Kondracki to do a protective frisk, which revealed that the man had a semi-automatic Colt 45 caliber 1911 tucked into his belt, under his shirt.

Officer Kondracki handcuffed the man but continued his investigation and discovered the suspect had left a note revealing his deadly intent toward a family of four. Kondracki’s “routine stop,” prevented a multiple homicide.

Ed’s wife Cheryl expressed concern about his safety in his first year. He calmed her by telling her it had been so long since a Milwaukee Officer had been killed in the line of duty that no one could remember, when. He told this writer, “Sadly in a very short time there would be so many that it would be difficult to remember all their names.”

The Riots
In 1967 Milwaukee was engulfed by a violent civil rights riot. Officer Kondracki was called into work from home. Before leaving he loaded a shotgun and handed it to his wife for protection in his absence, because the phone call was so ominous.

Arriving at the station, Officer Kondracki was assigned in a four man squad under the supervision of the legendary Sgt. Frank Miller, who was known to all as the “Field Marshal.” The windows of their squads were taped and each man was armed with a long gun. These assignments proved to be the birth of Milwaukee’s undaunted Tactical Enforcement Team (SWAT), which Ed eventually joined.

Kondracki confided that he experienced some of the scariest moments of his career as mayhem and chaos reigned throughout the city. Rioters looted, fire-bombed, and shot at police. At one point a wild eyed crowd even attacked officers on the south side of Milwaukee. Kondracki’s father, Captain Ed Kondracki Sr. a 33 year veteran of the department, was the2nd District Commander and subsequently ordered the largest dispersal of tear gas, to suppress the violence, than at any other time during the Milwaukee Police Department’s history.

Officer Kondracki returned to his home after three exhausting days with a uniform reeking of tear gas and a helmet coated in rotten eggs. The rioting ended after a city-wide curfew was ordered and the National Guard was called in, to assist. Before peace was restored, however nine officers of the Milwaukee Police Department had been shot. One of these officers, Bryan Moschea, died from his wounds.

Ed Kondracki Jr. went on to serve as a patrol officer, a patrol sergeant, a vice sergeant, a patrol lieutenant, a captain, a deputy inspector and eventually an inspector, who was third in command of the department. While doing all of this, he taught police officers, raised a family and attended night school at the University of Milwaukee Marquette earning a Bachelor’s Degree.

Just Lion Around
While in Milwaukee, while he was a shift lieutenant on the third shift, one quiet night he was reading reports at his desk. Unexpectedly two mountain lions nonchalantly walked into his office and climbed up on his desk, sat down and just stared at him. He sensed immediately he was in no danger, because of the cackling emanating from the squad room.

Lt. Kondracki discovered some officers had stopped a wagon carrying the trained mountain lions. They were mascots for a large car dealership and at the officer’s urging, the owner agreed to assist them in playing a prank on their shift commander.

Kondracki joined his laughing shift members in what he would describe as the best laugh he ever had on the job. We at PoliceOne acknowledge that this was indeed funny, but cautions readers not to try this at home. http://www.policeone.com/patrol-issues/articles/4778746-Shooting-to-kill-an-animal-A-sad-but-necessary-skill/

Chief Kondracki
Kondracki retired from the Milwaukee PD after 28 years and took a position as Chief of Police of the La Crosse, Wisconsin Police Department. The instant Chief Kondracki arrived in the city on the Mississippi he began to breathe the philosophy of community policing and problem solving into, not only the officers, but the community. His mantra was, “We are a part of, not apart from the community we serve.” Kondracki was not only a servant to his community, but he also proclaimed it was his job to insure the safety and success of, “The officers I serve.”

Kondracki immediately put his beliefs to the test. He assigned volunteers to a problem solving team to produce a plan to end the incessant rioting at La Crosse events. He let his officers develop and propose a solution and allowed them, unfettered, to implement their plan. Kondracki was in full uniform and duty gear as he walked the downtown beat with his officers, but let them work without interference. The plan worked better than anyone hoped for and peace returned to the once raucous even violent events.

In his 19 years, the La Crosse Police Department received what they needed to survive and thrive on the street. This included fully-equipped weight room, an indoor range, and a state of the art classroom. Patrol officers, the Emergency Response Team, and Civil Unrests Teams received everything they needed in the range of training equipment and weapons to prevail in all circumstances they faced.

The department not only bought into the philosophy from this leader, who talked the talk and walked the walk, but the community did as well. When a dilapidated police station on the Northside of La Crosse was about to be torn down and there was no funds to replace it the community rallied, donated funds, swung hammers and rebuilt the station without a single penny of local, state or federal tax dollars. The state of the art facility was renamed the Northside Community Police Center and should rightly be named the “Kondracki Center.”

The Evolution of Law Enforcement
In looking back Chief Kondracki observed that the entire history of law enforcement has not seen the changes that he lived through in the last nearly five decades. There was Miranda, Mapp v. Ohio’s exclusionary rule, community policing, digital recorders, TASERs, SWAT, in-car GPS, and computers. The most important change, however, was, “There was a time we thought it was good to do a thing professionally, but at this point in time we are emerging as one of the true professions.”

Those that know Chief Kondracki will be quick to say that many of the positive changes to our profession happen because of him and police officers like him.

47 Years of Perspective
I asked Chief Kondracki if he could pass along any advice to the current generation of police officers and after some thought he shared the following pearls of wisdom worth remembering:

1.) Strive to maintain a balance. Don’t let the things and people that mean the most to you take a back seat to law enforcement. There should be a balance between law enforcement family, faith, and recreation.
2.) Avoid Cynicism. His wife Cheryl cautioned him as a young officer “Don’t become cynical.” He found he had to work hard constantly the rest of his career to keep it from happening. He said, “The effort was worth it.”
3.) Begin your career with the end in mind. Know where you want to go and what you want to do. Do not just go with the tide.
4.) Accept policing as a calling. When you do you will always know the right thing to do, because the one who called you will always be with you.

Chief Kondracki will hang up his badge and whistle April 27, 2012 after 47 years. He will have more time to devote to his children, grandchildren and his wife Cheryl, who has stood beside him through it all and then some. He plans on continuing to serve by doing volunteer work for the Salvation Army and the Red Cross.

He had one closing piece of advice for all of you still in the life. “There is some good in everything a police officer does so find the good in what you do, and most of all, enjoy the journey!”

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