Retiring Alpena County sheriff reflects on career

News Photo by Julie Riddle Steven Kieliszewski, Alpena County sheriff, holds a personalized mug in his office on Monday.

ALPENA — His last day will be a good day, the Alpena County sheriff said.

Ready to retire after 17 years wearing a sheriff’s badge, Steven Kieliszewski will wrap up a 35-year law enforcement career on Friday with a few snacks, a few handshakes, and a readiness to ride off into the sunset with the satisfaction of a job well done.

“I leave this office with no regrets,” said Kieliszewski on Monday, reminiscing about his career and the responsibilities of leadership while surrounded by boxes in an office soon to be no longer his.

Even as a kindergartener, awed by the sight of his dad’s township constable uniform, Kieliszewski knew he wanted to become a police officer.

In childhood cops-and-robbers games with his brother, the sibling was always the bad guy, and Kieliszewski was always the cop, the bicycle he rode around Alpena serving as a makeshift squad car, the sheriff said.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Alpena County Sheriff Steven Kieliszewski on Monday talks about a painting, hung in his office, that he said reminds him of himself as a child.

High school criminology classes and Boy Scout career-explorer groups fed his vision of a future in uniform, and an Alpena Community College law enforcement degree sent him off prepared for his first, brief stints as an officer, first on Mackinac Island and then in Otsego County.

Some time later, then-Alpena County Sheriff Tom Male hired Kieliszewski as animal control officer. That position turned into 34 years with the office, culminating in his stepping into the sheriff’s role in 2005.

After announcing his retirement last month, Kieliszewski walks away this week with his certificates of achievement, his box of treasured Louis L’Amour books, and three decades’ worth of memories of service to his community.

Some memories are tougher than others.

He won’t soon forget the homicides, the horrific crashes, the showing up at people’s doors to see them battered and beaten.

He still riles with outrage at the thought of domestic violence, boiling with anger toward people who abuse women.

He shakes his head in exasperation and confusion over murder-suicides — of which he’s seen too many — and the incomprehensible decisions people make to hurt one another.

Early in his Alpena career, a supervisor urged Kieliszewski to attend trauma counseling after he worked a particularly grisly murder. He didn’t need it, the young officer thought. Police are tough. Police can handle it.

But he couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop picturing what he’d seen or what the victim had endured, so he went.

“I don’t think it cured me 100%,” Kieliszewski said, the victim’s battered body still vivid in his memory. “But we have to keep going.”

Without a strong support system at home, the rigors of police work and police leadership could have been unbearable, the sheriff said, expressing gratitude for understanding children and a wife who, he said, is the presence on his shoulder encouraging him to “be the leader you want to be.”

On paper, a sheriff’s biggest job is running the jail and enforcing laws and ordinances.

Just as important, Kieliszewski said, is the work of listening — to employees, to community leaders, to residents who call and stop in at the office regularly, asking him to help resolve the issues they don’t know how to solve themselves.

Sheriffs listen to complaints about loud music and barking dogs, he said. They listen when a parent doesn’t know what to do with a wayward son or daughter. They steer someone in danger of a crisis toward agencies who can help.

“It’s not always about arresting someone,” Kieliszewski said.

Leading the sheriff’s office means being where the buck stops, and sometimes, especially in a small agency, that means disciplining someone you know well — and that’s not easy, he said.

Being the person in charge also means the pleasure of getting to tell people they did a good job, he said.

The new jail building is high on Kieliszewski’s list of accomplishments in which he takes pride, as is helping to secure a security contract for the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center that brought the county several million dollars over 10 years.

He’ll also remember with pride his work as a crash reconstructionist, a field in which he trains agencies around the state.

Some years back, he said, he taught Chicago Police Department officers a computer technique to help them investigate crashes.

“That’s probably the most rewarding part of the whole damn job, helping your brothers and sisters in blue,” the sheriff said.

Once he says his goodbyes on Friday, Kieliszewski will ease into a laid-back retirement and see how he likes it, he said.

He’ll take with him a career’s-worth of memories and the conviction of having served a community he loves to the best of his ability.

“We run into some crappy things in this career,” Kieliszewski said as he prepared to walk away from his sheriff’s badge. “But we also run into some absolutely beautiful things.”

A three-person committee will appoint a replacement to fill the remainder of Kieliszewski’s term, with that decision expected soon.

The appointee, should he or she wish to retain the office, will have to run in the 2024 election.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.


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