Defining the badge 1

Johnson County Sheriff Steve Kozisek has spent the past 46 years working in law enforcement. Jan. 6 will serve his last day on Jan. 6. Kozisek said he’s been humbled by the community’s support, and he’s appreciative of his time in office.

Behind a series of doors in the Johnson County Justice Center, Sheriff Steve Kozisek stood with his son, Buffalo Police Department Investigator James Kozisek.

James took advantage of a quiet moment in his day to speak with his father as the retiring sheriff packed up his office. A smile is exchanged between them and James puts his hand on his father’s back and looks at the boxes stacked upon a long table in the middle of the room and the empty bookshelves.

“Let me know if you need anything,” James said.

Inside the boxes were memories of 46 years in law enforcement.

Sheriff Kozisek lifted the edge of a grey tote, determining the weight. Soon, he will turn over the office to newly elected Sheriff Rod Odenbach.

Kozisek took office 16 years ago when Larry Kirkpatrick retired. The office was located in a small brick building back then.

“There have been a lot of good days,” Kozisek said. “There really have been.”

It started when Kozisek took a trip to his hometown of Newcastle more than four decades ago. Kozisek was offered a job with the police department. He was just leaving the U.S. Army and exploring his options. After eventually accepting the position, it only took a few days until Kozisek knew this is what he wanted to do with his life.

Kozisek graduated from the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy class No. 1 and served with the Newcastle Police Department for a little over a year.

Kozisek then went to serve with the Wyoming Highway Patrol and was transferred to Buffalo.

In February 1979, he started in Johnson County as an investigator under former Sheriff Paul Redden.

He would work his way into the undersheriff position and eventually, sheriff.

In that time he’s made fond memories. He talks about his friends, his deputies and his dispatchers with a heartfelt smile.

“There’s been strong camaraderie,” he said. That, he said, he will miss the most. “We’re a family.”

Reflecting on his career, Kozisek remembers one of his favorite memories.

“When I first started, it was winter in Newcastle,” Kozisek said. “A family came into the police department. A Hispanic couple that had come up because they had been promised a job was lined up. It fell through. So they came in and they didn’t have anything, they had a little baby with them.”

Kozisek still had a baby at home himself. So he called his wife Elaine, who put together supplies for the desperate couple.

“She got some formula, we got some diapers and there was another lady there in town who was really nice, so I got ahold of her,” he said.

The woman helped find the young family a place to stay and food to eat. The next day, Kozisek helped the father find a job and more permanent housing.

“They were so thankful,” Kozisek said. “I look back on things like that. … I think that’s the best part of the job. The look on a parent’s face when they know their child is safe.”

There are the memories that, despite his best efforts, will be with Kozisek long after he hangs up his uniform.

In one instance, a vehicle ran off the road. The driver had fallen asleep and hit an embankment hard enough to mangle the vehicle and kill the occupants. The victims were a young family, a father, mother and baby.

The fire crew extracted the parents, but the team had many young members at that time. Kozisek stepped in; he excused the younger rescuers, and extracted the infant himself as a way to spare anyone else from the trauma. One witness would later say that everyone fell silent as Kozisek crawled under the wreck, cut the straps from the carseat and performed the extraction, the only sound was echoed calls of geese from far off in the distance.

“Live for the good days,” Kozisek said quietly reflecting. “Put the bad days behind you.”

Kozisek used his position to change how sexual crimes are addressed and investigated in Johnson County, always keeping the victim in mind.

“I spent a lot of years working sexual abuse cases against children and child abuse cases. I kind of specialized in that area,” Kozisek said.

Kozisek had grown frustrated with how he felt society attempted to ignore or even conceal such crimes. He and others in law enforcement decided to bring those crimes to the light and dedicated themselves to protecting victims.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” Kozisek said. “You see and think about these people who have been victimized for years, but when you lock the door on that person who hurt them in jail, that’s the justice.”   

For Kozisek, Johnson County is home. He’s raised his children here; two of them following in his footsteps, becoming law enforcement officers themselves.

As the sun sets on his distinguished career, a new day is dawning in Kozisek’s life.

He looks forward to spending more time with his wife and grandchildren. He’s also looking forward to not receiving phone calls in the middle of the night.

Kozisek said he plans to take his wife around the state and see everything that his home has to offer.

“There are a lot of things in Wyoming I’ve never seen, I’ve driven by them but never stopped and looked or spent time,” Kozisek said. “A lot of historical monuments and scenic views, and we’re going to try and do some of that around Wyoming.”

Kozisek will serve his last day on Jan. 6. Odenbach will be sworn in on Jan. 7.

When asked what his final words to Johnson County residents are, Kozisek sat in silent reflection.

“I’ve been very humbled by all of the support that I’ve gotten from all of Johnson County,” he said. “And I appreciate that support, very much.”

A retirement party for Sheriff Steve Kozisek will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds.

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