New Kewaunee police chief ready to take the reins after 30 years with department
KEWAUNEE – James Kleiman Jr. wears many hats in his service to the city, from training police officers to responding to fires to calming a shaken victim of a recent phone scam.
Starting Jan. 3, he'll wear one of its most visible and important hats.
That's the day Kleiman officially becomes the new chief of the Kewaunee Police Department. He replaces Frank Salentine, who retired after 20 years as chief and 29 as a member of the department.
Kleiman became the assistant police chief in 2014 and has been serving as interim chief since October, so he's gotten plenty of on-the-job training. He came up through the ranks with Salentine, joining as a part-time officer in 1989 and going full-time in 1990, and said and he's ready to take the reins.
"Frank's been transitioning me for many, many years," Kleiman said. "So I'm pretty comfortable filling his shoes. … I think we worked really well together. He transitioned me into this position, offered me a lot of guidance, got me ready."
Kleiman grew up on a local farm and lived in the Kewaunee area all his life except for a few months in school. He's performed numerous duties in his 30 years on the force, including: instructor in firearms, vehicle contacts and Defense and Arrest Tactics; school resource officer in the Kewaunee School District from 2011 to 2016; and SWAT team member for 20 years, retiring as team leader in 2012.
That versatility is common for a small-city police force such as Kewaunee's, which has six full-time officers (including the chief and assistant) and five part-timers.
"Some bigger departments are more specialized, (but) we have to deal with everything," Kleiman said. "You might be doing paperwork (in the station) when you get a call, you have to go out on it, then you come back here and do the paperwork. We pretty much do everything start to finish."
That became evident when he took a service call to the department during his interview with the Star-News. The voice on the other end of the line apparently was speaking with anxiety and urgency. Small wonder — the person had received a call just before saying a grandchild was in trouble someplace far away, then asking for money to solve the problem, one of those typical phone scams designed to prey on the elderly.
"That's fraud," Kleiman said to the person on the phone. "You haven't sent any money, have you? Good. I need you to relax. … Take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth."
That sort of emotional therapy goes along with the territory of regular police work, Kleiman said afterward.
"A lot of times when stuff like that happens, you've gotta get the person calmed down, get them to relax so you can explain to them what they're doing," he said. "You can't explain it to them if the person is in a certain state of mind."
Kleiman also is a captain with the city's Fire Department — he started there in 1991, was named Door-Kewaunee Firefighter of the Year in 2008 and was a state nominee that year — and has been a driver for Kewaunee Rescue Squad for 15 years.
Kleiman said the change from assistant chief to chief mainly means he'll handle more administrative work. He'll still perform standard duties such as patrols and responding to calls, but he'll likely step away from some activities to better focus on his new position.
The department also has an open full-time position, and Kleiman said he is taking applications.
Kleiman said he became interested in law enforcement as a career under the influence of his older sister, who entered a criminal justice program after she graduated from high school.
"I first remember writing a career paper as a freshman indicating law enforcement," he said. "It also could have been all of the cop shows I watched on TV at the farm. I was also thinking military after school, but after talking with my dad, law enforcement was a good alternative. Growing up, I didn't know much about law enforcement and could only relate (to) what was on TV at the time."
He said after 30 years with the department, he continues to be motivated by the opportunity to help members of the community who need help.
"Usually people do not call the police to say 'hi.' People call the police because they have problems that they cannot solve and do not have any where else to go," he said. "We do wear a lot of hats as a law enforcement officer, but ultimately we help people when they need help. Sometimes it may be coaching a person on how to act, or in some cases arresting people on the way they have acted.
"There have been many times where a person has thanked me for arresting them when they were younger, as it changed their life for the better. Even though we do have to make the tough decision to either issue a citation or arrest a person, we do so to treat everyone fairly."
Plus, there are the day-to-day challenges that come with police work.
"What I still enjoy about the job is that you don't know what is going to happen from one minute to the next," Kleiman said. "You may have a day where nothing happens so you can catch up on reports, or you may be going from call to call to call. We have to be prepared for every situation out there, and I want to thank our training officers for keeping all of us prepared for the unknown."
As he prepares to move from interim to permanent chief, Kleiman doesn't anticipate a major shake-up in how the department is run.
"We have a really good department. I'm very happy with how everyone works well together. We want to maintain that cohesiveness with our department."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: New Kewaunee police chief ready to take the reins after 30 years with department