In his final days as Columbia’s police chief, Jerry Paul reflected on a 28-year law enforcement career and accomplishments while at the helm of the department.
Prior to arriving in Columbia, the Granite City native served with the Madison Police Department for two years.
“I feel very privileged that I got to spend the 26 years I did here in Columbia,” Paul said.
Paul, 53, is retiring on Jan. 31. He succeeded Joe Edwards as police chief after Edwards resigned from the position in May 2016.
Jason Donjon, who was deputy chief under Paul, has been appointed as his successor. Longtime CPD veteran Karla Heine will be the new deputy chief.
Among Paul’s accomplishments during his tenure as chief include the additions of a full-time school resource officer, a traffic safety officer to patrol Route 3, and officers on the Metro East Auto Theft Task Force and Drug Enforcement Agency Task Force.
“Zack (Hopkins), he’s just a rock star in the schools,” Paul said of the CPD’s school resource officer.
As for the traffic enforcement officer, he credited a partnership with the Illinois Department of Transportation for improvements in traffic light timing and other safety measures as well as the city council for the OK to fund an additional member of the force.
He thanked St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson and Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing for working to include CPD officers on the auto theft and DEA task forces, respectively.
Both task force officers are funded through grants and drug/asset forfeiture funds. The school resource officer is funded through a 50-50 partnership between the city and school district.
The CPD force, which was at 16 when Paul became chief, is now at 21.
Another accomplishment Paul said he is proud of is his assistance in partnering Columbia EMS and the fire department for the creation of a taxing district.
“I wanted to keep a viable EMS service and worked toward that,” he said.
One of Paul’s main regrets, however, is that he wasn’t able to move efforts for a new public safety complex further along in the process.
“It’s such an old building,” he said.
Paul recounted three particularly memorable incidents during his time with the CPD.
The first was in 1995 when a man under the influence of PCP drove into Paul’s patrol car during a violent domestic disturbance call. Fellow officer Shawn Westfall positioned his vehicle behind the subject to prevent him from striking Paul’s car again and moved in a position to pepper spray and then tackle the subject, allowing Paul to exit through the windshield area of his car.
The next incident was in 1997, when Paul and officer Ken Glaenzer caught a kidnapper from St. Louis by conducting a traffic stop. The female kidnapping victim was inside the suspect’s vehicle during the stop.
In May 2002, Paul assisted in the capture of armed robber Daniel Boone after he jumped from the Jefferson Barracks Bridge into the Mississippi River. Paul said he drove to Luhr’s Landing and went out on a tugboat to locate the suspect.
As for the changing of the guard at the CPD, Paul said it should be a “seamless transition” to Donjon as the new chief.
“With the serious things that have happened, Columbia police has always got their guy,” he said. “And this is all the chiefs prior to me and that will continue with all the chiefs that come in after me.”
Paul said it is time for him to retire and spend more time with his wife Cindy.
“When you’re chief, there’s a lot of time put on you as far as meetings at night,” he said. “And for 28 years, I’ve been tethered to the phone and whatever crisis happens, I’m going. I’m getting called out. Nights, weekends, holidays. My book is full. This is Jason’s time now.”
In retirement, Paul said his short-term plans are to remain in the area and take a short break before contemplating his next chapter.
“I’m gonna take about three to six months and do nothing other than just decompress, fish this spring. I’ve got a few projects I want to do to my house. Then I’ll decide which direction I’m going to go after that,” he said. “But, I don’t think I’m going to do anything in law enforcement anynore. I want to move to the private sector.”
Paul said he has another house in Bourbon, Mo., which is in the Mark Twain National Forest, that he plans to stay at.
“It’s 26 miles in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Paul said his older brother was a big influence on him wanting to get into law enforcement.
“I was 19 or 20 and he was already an officer in Granite City. I saw it every day, what he did and what he was doing,” Paul remembers. “I knew it was something I wanted to do. I just kind of followed in his footsteps.”
Paul was optimistic when offering advice to those interested in the law enforcement field.
“It’s a very rewarding career,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities all over right now if you want them.”
The retiring chief said he will miss the people the most.
“All those I see on a regular basis during the day, and that’s at the station, citizens, businesses, just being out,” he said. “I know so many people and Columbia’s such a great place. Everybody knows you.
“But I’m looking forward to the other stuff, too.”