As Alan Baldwin approaches his final day as a law enforcement officer he's still not far away from the Wizard of Oz. It's written on his whiteboard above the cabinet in his office. It's also there as his monitor background – Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion skipping towards the Emerald City.
The classic story doesn't resonate because after 42 years as a law enforcement officer he's successfully followed the yellow brick road to its conclusion and a life of retirement with family and his motorcycles. Baldwin's always reminded himself of the Wizard of Oz because, in his eyes, all four traveling characters represent four tenants of a good police officer.
Baldwin explains: in the story the Scarecrow seeks the Wizard for a brain. In law enforcement, an officer must always be thinking. While the Tinman asks the Wizard for a heart, an officer must be compassionate. The Lion hopes to find courage. It takes courage for officers to properly do their jobs – going into dangerous situations others avoid. And then, finally, there's Dorothy looking for her way home. So, too, must officers find a way to safely return home after every shift, regardless of what they encountered that day.
“Police officer needs to have intelligence, passion, bravery and make sure they go home at the end of their shift,” he summarizes. “They want to go home. So that's one (term) I've coined.”
So he smiles, seated behind his desk and in front of a bookshelf-filled wall full of memories and accomplishments. Each comes with a story throughout his time of rebellious adolescence or Vietnam-era military service or his over four decades as a beat cop or police chief. There's even the Junior State of Commerce Award, same year that Clark Kolterman won the same award. They didn't know each other then. Of course there's also the framed baby photos of his children who have since grown up and had children of their own. There's also relics reminding him of his faith that he shares he'd remove if someone complained.
Then he hands out a few pages of answers he's prepared from being asked about his 23 years on the job by Seward High School and Concordia University students. Student questions in Baldwin's first year as Seward Police Chief sound similar to those he hears years later. So he answers the questions after asking them himself, sometimes chuckling at his prior thoughts written down.
“The pay is OK, I thought I could do it,” he reads aloud. “This is my answer.”
Then comes the Tinman. Despite increased attention on police and current tensions surrounding police departments nationally, there's no job he'd rather perform. Every day is different with its own challenges and the time away from his desk is valuable.
“It's challenging work,” he says, “it makes you feel good about doing your job.”
And the job certainly has brought its challenges. True to his Wizard of Oz mantra, none of those challenges have hardened him to the humanities of the job. They've made him more accepting to the idea that he couldn't protect everyone.
In citing memories from his 16 years in Beatrice, those times stand out. He retells the time he arrested the same person for driving while intoxicated on each of that kid's 16, 17 and 18 birthdays. There's also the numerous times a suspect under arrest vomited in other officer's briefcases because that was before the dividing barrier went between the front and back rows of police vehicles – so the only place to safely put a suspect was the passenger seat. Then there's the unavoidable time working the Beatrice 6 case, something that Baldwin still holds his own feelings on.
There's the 3 years as Chief of Police in Cozad before becoming Seward Police Department's Police Chief, all of which brought valuable experience. Looking back at them, those years could have helped Baldwin prepare for the domestic abuses cases, gruesome crime scenes and tragically fatal accidents he concedes memories to. He summarizes the proper tactic to let a parent know their child passed away in a car accident. He admits there's been times a case closed as a SIDS death where he wasn't convinced of that outcome. Those, cases involving children, stick with him throughout every decade.
Then, for levity, he shows off his coffee mug collection. There's a United States Postal Service mug from a check-forging case that holds his notes from the case instead of liquids. As he retells that investigation he points to his head, confirming a brain the Scarecrow longed for. There's the original coffee mug, one he never bought but drank out of while at Beatrice that he was gifted upon leaving. There's the mug he received from a Hawaiian hotel he and his wife stayed at while on vacation because he helped save a drowning victim in the hotel pool. As he tells those stories, each is lined with some level of courage, to There's the United States Postal Service mug he received from helping solve the case of the serial pipe bomb suspects in 2002. Each of those cases provide an example of the Lion, and the courage necessary for a law enforcement officer.
“You had to respect the police officers doing things that other people can't do or are unwilling or unable to do,” Baldwin thinks a younger version of himself once said. “It's why I got into the military. I knew there were things that I was willing to do that other people just can't or won't do.
“The cops are a strange group of individuals to do a lot of stuff like that.”
Those aspects of the job never change. While he started in a time without cell phones, carrying briefcases and typewriters that required whiteout, and a Smith and dual Wesson Model 66 Revolver on with their combined 12 shells total on his hip, the courage continued. Even with new squad cars, laptops, tasers, body gear, a single sidearm holding 16 rounds and additional larger weaponry at the Police Station, he enters each crime scene by doing the first thing first, he says. Whether that's getting in the car or conducting an interview, each accomplished task brings a new first thing.
By doing the first things he's saved possible victims of domestic assault and suicide. He also leaves having elevated Seward PD to heights respected by locals and commuters alike. The department grew to have more female officers, every officer with a Bachelor's and some with Master's Degrees. He trusts the department's in good hands as he leaves.
“The city of Seward has been fortunate to have Police Chief Baldwin serving our community the past 23 years,” Seward Mayor Josh Eickmeier shares. “I believe our community is a safer community with good officers, and especially with a police chief like Alan Baldwin.
“Alan's been great to work with and I know he's always cared about our community and making sure that Seward remains a safe place to raise a family and to visit. He'll be missed."
Yes, he feels tired some days and he jokes his train of thought leaves the station quicker than before. No doubt he'll miss the job, he says, but he took enjoyment out of the years. Retirement gives him more time with friends he's made, the motorcycle he enjoys and at home with his loving family.
After all, there's no place like home.