Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

September 17, 2013

Assistant police chief ready to let his guard down

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — Maj. Jeff Thielking has retired from the Batesville Police Department after 26 years. The assistant chief’s last day in the office was Sept. 12, although his official final day is Sept. 24.

How will the milestone be celebrated? According to Thielking, “We’ve had a run of retirees here (in the Memorial Building) recently. They will have some type of a sendoff.”

“Jeff will be missed,” reports Chief Stan Holt. “When I was hired on, Jeff was the officer who trained me. As far as somebody really having been proud of a police department, that is Jeff. Jeff is really a policeman’s policeman. When you think of the brotherhood of police, that’s Jeff.” Holt admires his assistant’s work ethic. “He’s one of the guys around the agency over the years ...(who) will do anything he needs to do to make things run efficiently.”

Thielking admits, “I’m ready to move on .... It’s been a good career. I’ve enjoyed it. There’s a lot to learn. I have absolutely no regrets.” With wife Mari working as a Batesville Water & Gas Utility employee, “the city … has treated our family well.”

“I’m kind of excited to go into another direction. I’m just really open right now” to future work prospects. After taking it easy for a little while, the 55-year-old will hunt for another job, “not just for the income. A person needs to wake up to something every morning.”

He reflects, “Police work is a young man’s game. It’s a high-stress position. You’re always chasing calls.” Even as his duties shifted to mostly administrative, the Batesville native and resident was “still out working the streets, still going to domestic disputes, still handling violent people.”

Thielking has been planning for this moment. Three years ago, the Public Employee Retirement Fund offered the officer a program that locks in retirement perks. “They take your monthly benefit and put it in some type of annuity account. Whatever monies have accrued in the three years, you get a one-time payment when you leave and you continue to get your benefit monthly.”

Looking back, the major says he did “everything” between graduating from Batesville High School and starting his BPD career. He started working at the former Lindemann Co. at 16, then moved to a Batesville Casket Co. plant and tended bar at Hillcrest Country Club. What he learned: “I didn’t want to work in the factories and I didn’t want to be in a mundane occupation … where you’re bored to death.”

The son of Carl (a part-time police officer in 1960s and 1970s) and Alice Thielking “was just kind of drawn” to police work. He was a Lake Santee security officer, then the late Ripley County Sheriff Kenny Lovins hired the young man as a dispatcher and jailer, when the Versailles jail “only held 14 prisoners and everything was still written out by hand.” After serving as Versailles town marshal for almost four years, he arrived at BPD and underwent Indiana Law Enforcement Academy training.

Working under Chief Dennis Wallpe and now Holt, he watched the department grow from eight to 12 officers. What makes him most proud is “that the department’s independent these days.” In earlier times, due to lack of resources, Batesville police relied on Indiana State Police and sheriff’s offices to help investigate. “We didn’t have a crime scene investigator (now BPD has two), we didn’t have full-time detectives… the officers weren’t trained back in those days to handle major crimes.”

The assistant chief says proudly, “There’s no doubt that today when there’s a crime, … BPD is probably trained just as much or more than any other agency in the state.”

He observes, “I’ve worked every conceivable shift. I thought the late night shift was the best” because he likes to be busy. Activity peaks between 2 p.m.-4 a.m., Thielking maintains.

Over three decades, technology and training have changed law enforcement. Both chiefs encouraged their officers “to take all the training you can get ... The training opportunities are pretty much unlimited,” from Indiana law updates and domestic violence seminars to practicing at the shooting range. “Search and seizure is the No. 1 field that you have to pay special attention to. Improper seach and seizure could cost you a case” and those rules keep changing.

Thielking recalls two alarming incidents. One happened when he had to investigate a call about a vehicle in Harvey’s Branch Creek. “I thought I was going swimming that night.” On the icy road, “my wheels stopped on the bridge about 2 inches from the side.” A pickup truck driver who happened by attached a cable to the police vehicle and pulled it back. The vehicle in the creek? Abandoned by the driver. “When it’s all over, you’re laughing about it. That was a rush.”

While he’s never been shot at, “that’s a risk you have to accept. If you dwell on these things, you’re not going to be effective in your job.” A few years ago, Thielking and former Officer Jeff Davies were chasing a car occupied by two teens. “The pursuit didn’t make any sense … they were driving around in circles.” The police learned later the young men were trying to talk a friend into ambushing the officers in Morris, but the friend refused. He says, “I don’t think they were evil, they just weren’t thinking that night.”

Should citizens worry about the prevalence of illegal drugs here or with the arrests of quite a few dealers, does the problem seem to be lessening? The major answers, “You should never let your guard down when it comes to drugs. It’s always going to be out there. There are going to be times that are worse than others.”

As assistant chief, Thielking handled all police business when the chief wasn’t available; assisted Holt with administrative responsibilities; maintained scheduling for patrol, special events, court, training, vacation and comp time; answered emergency calls and investigations; and monitored computer technology and maintenance needs.

Of the department, he notes, “I think we have a great bunch of officers. I think they are abolutely on board with what’s best for the city. They work hard and train hard. I think the city is fortunate to have the officers that we have.” When they are off duty, some hang out, perhaps by attending a ball game or going on an out-of-town vacation.

Now the new retiree will be able to spend more time with his wife and three kids, Chris, 33; Lauren, 23; and Vanessa, 21. He reveals, “I purchased my retirement boat, a 17-foot Fincraft, this spring” to continue a favorite pastime, fishing in secluded areas.

Thielking will miss one advantage of his police vehicle. “The speed!” he says with a laugh. “Every boy likes his toy. How often can you get in a car and drive fast and not get a ticket?”

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.