Friday, October 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> Veteran lawman for Austin police

Leader staff writer

Austin’s new police chief is serious about building community, growing in his field and about how his job impacts lives.

Lt. James Kulesa of the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office will take his place as the city’s top law-enforcement officer on Monday, Oct. 13.

His last day working for Sheriff John Staley, a former Austin police chief, is next Thursday. Staley said Kulesa has his blessing, albeit he’ll be missed, and comes highly recommended because of his professionalism, abilities and experience.

Kulesa is replacing Tony Bryant, who resigned for health reasons.

The new chief was born overseas, in England. The son of a Scottish mother and American airman, he moved back and forth from there and New Jersey before his 18th birthday in 1976.

That is when Kulesa followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the Air Force. He became a flight chief and later joined security police investigations.

Kulesa was enlisted as a military police officer for 15 years and three months. About why he chose the profession, he said, “I enjoyed working with people, and basically that’s what it was. I like to do things where you’re learning and advancing, dealing closely with the community.”

He spent almost a year working at the Pulaski County Juvenile Detention Facility after leaving the Air Force in 1992.

Then Kulesa was hired by the Lonoke Police Department. He was there for two and half years.

He left the position to work for the sheriff’s office, where he has been for last 18 and half years.

Kulesa said he chose his career to make a difference. Being a law-enforcement officer isn’t just about arresting people, he noted.

“What means more is when you have a person who has changed things in their life, and they’re doing good and they thank you for that,” Kulesa explained.

It’s also about the families of people who are arrested, he said. The arrest impacts them too, Kulesa said.

Speaking of his lengthily career, Kulesa said, “You’re always learning. That’s one of the main things I’ve learned.”

Remaining humble, he continued, “A rule of thumb is not to act like you know everything because you don’t.”

Kulesa said law-enforcement officers have to work as a team. They can’t be biased or jump to conclusions, he noted.

Kulesa pointed out, “It’s not about trying to convict somebody. It’s about getting to the truth.”

And the new chief doesn’t tolerate hypocrites. “I believe you can’t go out there and enforce laws if you don’t follow them,” he said.

Kulesa doesn’t have big ideas for Austin yet. He wants to get to know the officers better and the operations of the department first.

Kulesa said he had worked with Austin officers before, while at the sheriff’s office. He said, “They’re a great bunch of guys. The community is very close.”

As for his leadership style, Kulesa said, “Respect is not given. It’s earned.”

He added that he believes in constructive criticism, sharing knowledge, the power of continued training in law enforcement trends, teamwork and inter-agency cooperation.