A lot has changed since the start of Jay Zempel’s 36-year police career.
Thirty of those years he served with the New London Police Department, an organization he was proud to be part of.
Zempel officially retired from NLPD on Monday, June 2.
“It’s an outstanding police department,” said Zempel. “I’ve worked with just a tremendous group of officers.”
In 1981, Zempel, a Fremont native, was living and working for the Port Washington Police Department where he served for six years. He had applied in New London and was told at that time he’d be the next in line for a position here. Three years later, New London Police Chief Jack Algiers hired him on a handshake in 1984.
Zempel worked for four chiefs during his 30 year career in New London. He also served as Interim Chief between Kevin Wilkinson and the current Chief Jeff Schlueter.
“I couldn’t get out of that office fast enough,” said Zempel with a laugh.
“I think people would be amazed at the volume of stuff that comes through their office in a day. I think they (chiefs) really earn their money, especially in a smaller agency where they can’t insulate themselves with a bunch of Lieutenants.”
In recent years, Zempel handled alot of the day to day operations like scheduling, equipment management, and other duties as Assistant Chief, but admitted, even with some cross over roles, they are two completely different jobs.
Zempel was promoted to Sergeant in 1996, Lieutenant in 2001 and Captain in 2009. He served as night shift supervisor and worked nights for nearly 20 years.
He recalled the old days when officers rotated shifts on days and nights. Every six days they would rotate from mornings, afternoons and nights.
“That literally was killing us,” he recalled. “It’s hard to go from working six days on in the mornings, to six days on in the afternoons, to six days on at nights and then back to mornings again.”
“We had this group that nobody wanted to work the afternoon shift,” explained Zempel.
“So we came up with this idea of a permanent night shift and let the two day shifts rotate back and forth, that way the night guys could get their normal sleep and day shift never would work past 10 o’clock at night.”
He had enough seniority he could have moved to the day shift, but Zempel volunteered to remain on nights. “We had a really good group of officers on nights and of course everybody knows, that’s where the action is,” said Zempel.
“I think some people would be amazed if they rode along with the night shift and saw New London, from the after 10 o’clock at night perspective,” he said.
New London is a diverse city, both day and night.
“I really think it’s a unique place with that small town atmosphere of knowing your neighbors,” he said.
In a smaller city like New London, officers get to know the people well, and they know when they see things out of the ordinary.
“We make a lot of mental notes—sometimes I think police officers do that without even realizing it,” he said. “It’s kind of like your own neighborhood. You know who is coming and going, and what lights should be on or off at certain times,” he explained.
For officers, the whole city becomes their neighborhood. “I think sometimes in bigger cities you don’t get that,” said Zempel.
Working in a Police Department the size of New London has been a rewarding experience.
“When you work for a department with 17 employees, everybody becomes everything,” explained Zempel. Officers gain experience in all areas of law enforcement.
“There aren’t a bunch of specialized units with a smaller department,” he said. “You’re it. You might be responding to a homicide—and a couple days later, responding to a fender bender in a parking lot,” he said. “The people at both of those situations expect the same thing out of you. Everyone receives equal treatment and the same level of service no matter what the call is.”
Zempel said law enforcement is a challenging yet rewarding career that he is glad he chose.
“There is nothing else that I would trade for the last 36 years,” said Zempel. It was as good as it gets.”
“When you work for a really good police department like New London you become like a family. The people that we have here are just an outstanding group. I think I will miss that the most,” he said.
In his retirement, he plans to continue teaching at the Fox Valley Technical College Police Academy, where he has served as an adjunct professor since 1986. He is the senior firearms instructor at the academy.
He also hopes to get out and spend a little time on the Wolf River fishing.