Sheriff James Kowalczyk reflects on his overall time in law enforcement

Published: Dec. 30, 2022 at 7:13 PM CST
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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) - It’s the end of an era for Chippewa County and their sheriff James Kowalczyk as he is set to retire Monday January 2nd, 2023.

His office is almost empty, the memories of his 45 years in law enforcement already out, and just a few things left to reflect on.

Kowalczyk started as a traffic cop in 80′s, eventually joining the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office in the 90′s, then becoming an investigator and finally in 2006 running to be the new sheriff in town.

“I was successful at the time I ran. I think there was 5 other candidates. I was fortunate enough to have to voters vote me in. From that day forward I have been the sheriff of Chippewa County,” said Kowalczyk.

In his time wearing the badge, he traveled the country dealing with extraditions. The patches on a desk in his office show the police departments he’s visited all around the country.

At home in Chippewa County though, he also spent a good amount of time with the inmates at the jail.

“Spend a lot of time with the inmates. You know, the inmates are no different from you and I. They just made some wrong decisions and are suffering the consequences,” said Kowalczyk.

The sheriff would arrange for surprise visits with loved ones, even offering haircuts to the inmates since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It put a smile on my face, to put a smile on their face,” said Kowalczyk.

He’s had highs in his career, once saving a doctor who was found in the freezing cold, because of a suspected medical emergency.

“Went into the woods. Followed the tracks. Went in 50, 75 yards. Came across the doctor laying in the snow,” said Kowalczyk. “Something or someone up above said, I think you can postpone that supper and go do a good deed and save a life. It could’ve turned out totally opposite.”

And, he’s had his lows. The loss of a fellow officer for instance, who died in a crash along HW-53 almost 15 years ago, Jason Zunker. “Losing Jason was porbably one of the hardest things I’ve encountered in my time being sheriff.”

Some cases he’ll never forget, like the loss of a 4-year-old girl who was involved in a head on crash.

“And I couldn’t figure out why this child couldn’t wake up? Why wouldn’t this child cry? Why wouldn’t this child show me any signs of life. It really took a toll on me,” said Kowalczyk.

For officers who will be around after he leaves, he has some advice for the hard times.

“Take advantage. Take advantage of the employee system. Take advantage of the professionals that could help you out,” said Kowalczyk.

He is grateful for the people he has worked with over the years, and wishes the incoming sheriff Travis Hakes luck on the gig, but he is especially grateful to his wife.

“I owe just about everything as to why I’m successful and why I’m well like to her,” said Kowalczyk.

And he leaves with a simple thanks.

“In closing, I would like to thank Chippewa County for giving me the opportunities to do what I have been able to do in the last 45 years. To change things, and turn back the hands of time, I wouldn’t change a thing.”