Fox Point Police Chief Tom Czaja sits behind his desk, peering out a window at Santa Monica Boulevard, a proud smile on his face. He's merely describing a typical day working at the police department, but his face evidences a man who spends his days doing exactly what he's always wanted to do.
The Mequon resident has served as chief for the past 14 years, but his career in law enforcement spans more than three decades. Beginning as an officer for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Police Department, Czaja then moved to the Whitefish Bay Police Department. He served there for 18 years and rose to the rank of lieutenant before coming to Fox Point.
"I've always had an interest in law enforcement," said Czaja, who was exposed to the career early on. His brother-in-law, who worked as a dispatcher for the Brown Deer Police Department, introduced him to law enforcement.
"I enjoy helping people," he said. "My freshman year at UWM, I declared criminal justice as my major right away."
Czaja describes his favorite part of the job as the people he's met and worked with.
"Fox Point is a wonderful community to work in," he said. "We've got some wonderful residents here and I think I have the best employees in the world. They give 110 percent every day. It makes my job very easy."
"I look forward to coming to work every day," he added.
Of course, in law enforcement, there can be some very difficult days, like the one Czaja described as the most significant incident in his entire career.
He was working as an officer in Whitefish Bay in 1994, when a Glendale police officer was shot and killed by a man who had just robbed a bank. Czaja had known the officer for 13 years, and was asked to accompany him in the helicopter that would take the man to the hospital, where he would be pronounced dead. The experience stuck with Czaja.
"It made me realize that a lot of times, working in the suburbs is as dangerous as working in a large city," he said. That feeling has been reinforced by two officer-involved shootings that have occurred in recent years. "It still can be as dangerous here as anywhere else," he said.
Despite days like those, Czaja said he still feels that law enforcement is one of the finest career choices.
And most of his days are not like those. On a typical day, the chief is up for his daily workout at 5 a.m., at the office by 6 a.m., and spends his day doing "a lot of paperwork, and a lot of research." He takes phone calls from residents, manages the budget, and personnel issues, although he said he doesn't have many of those.
Occasionally, because Fox Point is a small department – 17 officers in all – he'll go on calls himself, if needed. If there's a bad accident in the village, residents may even see the chief directing traffic.
"Whatever needs to be done, we all work as a team," he said. "Most days are quiet, but then, all of a sudden, you can run into any type of situation," he explained.
Despite his long, successful career, Czaja doesn't rest on his past achievements. He says that continuing education is very important for police officers.
In addition to his bachelor's degree, Czaja graduated from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy and attended the Certified Public Manager program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
And if work and continuing his education haven't kept him busy enough, Czaja also pursues several hobbies. When he's not hard at work, he can sometimes be found teeing off at Hawthorne Hills Golf Course.
"I'm not good at golf, but I really enjoy it," he said.
He also spends weekends volunteering as a Eucharistic minister with the chaplain's office at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital, handing out communion to Catholic patients. One of his hobbies has even recently assisted him with his career.
Czaja is a ham radio operator and, as a result, sits on the State Interoperability Council. The council was established by the Department of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11 attacks to insure that different agencies' radios were able to communicate with each other.
He also volunteers with the Federal Communications Commission administering ham radio licensing exams, and has learned Morse Code.
"People still use it!" he explained excitedly.
On the occasions that he does take the time to relax, he loves traveling to Bermuda with his wife of 27 years. The couple went there on their honeymoon, and in recent years, he said, they try to go back at least once, sometimes twice, a year.
"Bermuda is very rich in history," he said. That's why they enjoy exploring and photographing the island, he said. But no matter how much he enjoys getting away; Czaja said he always looks forward to getting back to work.
"If I didn't love it, I wouldn't be here."