Jim Carmody grew up in Port Huron and spent 31 years there working for the police department before moving to Wyoming. Photo by Michael Buck
Police work was much more a seat-of-the-pants process when Jim Carmody got into it in 1975 at age 23. Today, the former chief of police in Wyoming holds a new job — director of the Wyoming Department of Public Safety — which illustrates how police administration in the U.S. is evolving.
“I’m 37 years in this business; I can remember my first call when I went on the road” as a rookie on the Port Huron Police Department, said Carmody.
He had not even been issued everything he needed when his shift started that night. But when the call came in about a man with a gun threatening people at a housing project, his new partner told the rookie, “Let’s go!”
The first half-hour of his first night in uniform, on patrol, is seared into Carmody’s memory.
JAMES E. CARMODY
“We jumped into the cruiser. I can remember saying to myself all the way to the call, ‘This is real, this is real.’”
They quickly found the suspect, who was not armed, but his gun was stashed in a nearby car.
“Within 15 or 20 minutes of my first call, I’ve got a felony arrest. I shook all the way back to the jail,” said Carmody.
He was born and raised in Port Huron; his father died when he was 16. An older brother in the Air Force introduced him to a close friend named Tom who was a young officer with the Port Huron police. “He took me under his wing in a big brother capacity,” said Carmody.
After high school, Carmody got a job as a construction worker. He liked the physical aspect of the work, but realized its seasonal nature wouldn’t be much of a career, so when Tom urged him to consider police work, he took the advice.
It was 1975, and back then Michigan allowed a police department to hire someone and send him to the police academy later. A new hire didn’t have to be academy-trained.
Carmody, whose hair was shoulder length, was hired by the Port Huron police, but there would be a wait before he could attend the academy, so the chief told him to keep his long hair; he would work as an undercover officer with the drug squad. Three months later he attended the academy, followed by five years on patrol.
He worked on patrol roughly half of his 31 years at Port Huron, but he also continued his education and learned police administration skills. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, with honors, at Wayne State University, followed by a master’s in public administration at the University of Michigan.
He rose through the ranks to sergeant, then jumped to captain. He retired from the Port Huron force as a major (equivalent to deputy chief). He left in 2006 to accept a new job: chief of the Wyoming Police Department.
He holds certifications in traffic crash investigations, advance police supervision, drug interdiction operations, police ethics training, and racial profiling prevention training. He also has served as an instructor in police management and leadership principles.
Added to his university credentials are completion of several professional leadership programs, including the FBI National Academy and the Northwestern University Traffic Institute School of Police Staff and Command, where he received the prestigious Franklin M. Kreml Leadership Award. He also completed the Michigan Law Enforcement Executive Leadership Institute, and the Michigan Police Executive Development program.
Carmody is also an assessor for the Commission on Accreditation to Law Enforcement Agencies, a national nonprofit headquartered in Virginia. It was created in 1979 as a credentialing authority by the major executive associations within law enforcement: the International Association of Chiefs of Police; National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; National Sheriffs’ Association; and the Police Executive Research Forum.
CALEA might be compared to the ISO manufacturing standards developed for systematic production of products to make global trade more effective.
Accreditation is still fairly new in police work; Carmody said there are more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. but only about 1,000 are nationally accredited. “And we’re one of just 10 in the state of Michigan, out of 500,” he added.
“For the average cop on the street, what it means is consistency,” said Carmody. Years ago, on road patrol, he might work a relief shift with a different supervisor.
“Every supervisor had a different way of doing things. That drove you crazy,” he said. “This way, you develop your police procedures consistent across the board.”
Carmody was the accreditation manager in Port Huron. Wyoming was on the path to accreditation when Carmody was hired as chief in 2006. The city manager asked him to complete it, and accreditation was granted in 2009. Since then, Wyoming has had a standard written policy regarding use of force, and written reports are required after every use of force. They are tracked and analyzed each year and indicate if more training is required.
Accreditation can reduce liability costs. For example, last year the city of Wyoming was sued in federal court for alleged excessive use of force during an arrest. In Wauchope v. Shellenbarger, the jury deliberated just 15 minutes to reach a verdict; it found in favor of the city. Carmody noted members of the jury said they were very impressed by the professionalism of the Wyoming police.
Proposals for a full consolidation of the police and fire in Wyoming came about in 2010 “as a result of what was going on in the economy,” said Carmody.
In a true consolidation of public safety services, police and fire firefighters are trained to do both jobs, which is often a controversial issue. Eventually, Wyoming settled for a “nominal” consolidation, which mainly consolidates the administration, while police and fire services remain separate. Even that required negotiation with the police and fire unions, which worked with the city, “much to their credit,” according to Carmody.
Today every police cruiser in Wyoming has an automated external defibrillator and every officer is trained how to use it. That allows Wyoming police to be first responders at medical emergencies, which are a larger share of emergency calls than crimes or traffic accidents.
Another change involved firefighters. Wyoming, like other smaller communities in the region, has one-third full time and two-thirds “reserve” or paid-on-call firefighters. Carmody said that arrangement worked well years ago when reserve firefighters were allowed by their employers to leave work.
“Today, that doesn’t happen.”
He said the solution was an “absolutely brilliant” idea by Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt, who asked city employees outside of the police and fire units if they would be interested in being reserve firefighters. Now there are 17 city employees with dual training — in their regular jobs and in firefighting — who are certified.
“So we’ve got a ready force that works here during the day,” a solution “being modeled by other communities now,” said Carmody.
Having grown up on Lake Huron, Carmody and his wife, Ralene, have fallen in love with the beaches of West Michigan. “They are sandy on this side as opposed to rocky.”
They have found Greater Grand Rapids has “so much to do, we are never bored. We can be in town watching a concert at the (Van Andel) Arena in 10 minutes. Back home, it was an hour drive to Detroit,” he said.
“My oldest son lives and works in Chicago, while my youngest lives and works here in Wyoming. So having the family that close is important to both of us.”