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Sal Tamez retires from Waukesha County Sheriff's Department

Nov. 6, 2013

Nov. 18 may just be the first time in nearly 30 years Sal Tamez has just one job. That's because on Nov. 17 the 30-year veteran of the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department will hang-up his handcuffs and head for retirement, which for him means his part-time job as North Prairie Police Chief.

If you would have asked Tamez all those years ago where he thought he'd be, he sure didn't think it would be here.

Tamez, who was born and raised in Waukesha, left high school for a job in a foundry. When that position started laying off, Tamez "accidentally" found the beginning of his policing career.

"A friend of mine asked me if I had any interest in working at Ethan Allen. Through knowing people I got hired first as a limited-term employee and then they liked the work I was doing so they offered me a position," Tamez said. "A year and a half later the population of the school went down so drastically they began laying people off so I lost my job as a youth counselor."

Tamez decided to apply with Waukesha County at a time when the county was in the midst of building a juvenile center and hiring to fill positions. There was only one catch.

"I got called and they told me they couldn't accept my application because I never finished school," Tamez said, his nearly permanent smile dropping off of his face.

"But, the weekend after that I went down to WCTC, passed a pretest and the next week took the GED and passed," he then added proudly.

Starting a career

In January 1984, Tamez had his first shift at the Waukesha County Jail. At 23-years-old he quickly began to make friends who had ambitious plans.

"A group of guys there wanted to apply at some local police departments. Somebody knew that Mukwonago hired auxiliary and they would help put you through school in exchange for volunteering so much time and working certain events," Tamez said. "When you were done you were a certified police officer."

Tamez, still not one for school, originally did not pursue the opportunity but when the guys brought back an application he filled it out anyway and got accepted.

"While I was in school and working for Mukwonago and working for the jail one of my co-workers became chief of police in North Prairie and asked me if when I was done with school I'd be interested," Tamez said. In 1988 he left Mukwonago and joined the North Prairie Police Department and kept his full-time position in Waukesha County Jail.

Focusing on education

It wasn't until Tamez decided he wanted to advance to a supervisory position that he realized education was going to play a major role in the rest of his career.

"I started applying for supervisory positions in the jail. I took the test twice. Both times I tested well but did not have enough education," Tamez said. "So I decided to apply as a deputy."

Tamez took his job as a deputy in 1993. As soon as he started he worked to pursue his education.

"I was a DAAT instructor, fire arms, shotgun instructor, cell extractions, baton instructor and I just kept on," Tamez said. "I went to as many schools as I could get my hands on and most of them focused on self-defense."

Tamez begun a third job teaching up-and-coming officers at WCTC and training veteran officers on new tactics and refresher courses. He became North Prairie's police chief in 1997.

"I guess I just found myself," Tamez said. "One of the biggest things I'm sorry about is that I didn't further my book education, like pursue criminal justice. But becoming a teacher and teaching people the laws and what the state allows you to do as an officer, putting that together in a physical way was very exciting for me."

Seeing a lot in 30 years

Tamez jokes that he remembers a time before computers were in cars. Back when every squad car had two people and they could spread out among the county. He mentions farm fields that are now shopping centers and subdivisions.

There's no doubt that drugs have been a roller-coaster type problem in Waukesha County, Tamez said. With the increase in population in the last 30 years there's been an increase of issues. Tamez said scrap theft is more common now largely because of tough economic times.

However, it's not only tough trends Tamez has seen. He cites examples of coming across past students who are now officers for other areas and inmates from his early days in the jail who are now out and thriving and still take time to say hello.

"I've been very fortunate in working with the county that I've done most of my career in the southwest portion of the county. So the amount of citizens you meet, and know, and people wave to ya," Tamez said. "Working in North Prairie, you just can't stop anywhere where somebody doesn't know you."

"It's been a good, good career," Tamez added. "I was glad I had the opportunity to do all of the things I did."

Plans for the future

Tamez doesn't have any big plans for his retirement. He plans to keep his part-time chief of police position in North Prairie and work more daytime hours.

When asked if he will get bored having only one job, a part-time one at that, after so many years of multitasking Tamez jokes.

"If I start to get a little bored I told my wife (Gail Tamez, clerk of the Village of Wales), that maybe she can hire me as a grass cutter in Wales," Tamez says with a chuckle. "Then I'll put on my headphones and drive around waving to the squads as they go by."

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