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Brunswick’s police department boasts colorful 50-year history

Brian Lisik,special to Sun News

As the city of Brunswick celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, so too does its police department. The next several issues of the Brunswick Sun will feature a behind-the-scenes look at each segment of the department, beginning with an historical overview.

According to a couple of longtime members of the force, police work in many ways has changed very little in the past half-century.

A police department is born

Although the story of the Brunswick Division of Police officially begins in 1960, prior to that, the former Brunswick Township was policed by two constables. The constables’ office was established in 1937, with the two constables being elected to office.

According to Lt. Brian Ohlin, the department’s unofficial historian, the original constables’ uniforms consisted of an olive green, hip-length jacket and trousers with a black stripe down each leg. They each carried a Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, and patrolled the township in a 1935 Chevrolet with cloth signs stretched across each front door, identifying it as a police car.

Upon the incorporation of the city, the present day Brunswick Police Department was founded, with Chief John “Fuzzy” Mrozik, Sergeant (and future chief) Clayton Crook, and three patrol officers.

Staffing remained the same in its first five years of existence, apart from the hiring of one radio dispatcher, while the population ballooned from 4,000 residents in 1955 to roughly 17,000 1965.

Mrozik served until 1966, overseeing notable events such as the purchase in Oct. 1961 of a “155 megacyle police radio station,” according to local newspaper accounts, and a record-setting weekend in April of that year when there were six traffic crashes with injuries in the city over a three-day period.

The original police department was located at 4383 Center Road, in the building now housing Fire Station 1. In 1974, the present-day City Hall at 4095 Center Road was built and the police station was relocated to that building.

The department remained in that police station until 1992, when the current police facility and jail were built, connected to the City Hall.

Some dark days

As the department grew to its current 60-member roster, including 30 full-time patrol officers serving 36,000 residents, the BPD was not immune to controversy.

In 1969, officer Jack Keisel was fired for allegedly being “involved in an altercation, while off-duty, at a local tavern,” according to news reports. In 2006, Chief Dale Kozlik retired amid allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a coworker, who later resigned as well.

A two-day standoff with John Lekan in March 1995 was perhaps the department’s darkest day. After Lekan shot three police officers, his home was surrounded by four area SWAT teams and many police and fire personnel. By the time an armored personnel carrier was used to break through the garage and enter the home, Lekan had killed both himself and his 9-year-old son. The incident earned the BPD national notoriety.

In 2001, an independent investigation cleared the department of any criminal wrongdoing, although then-chief Patrick Beyer called the incident a sobering learning experience.

Changing times

The department’s history has in many ways shaped its current focus on community policing, Ohlin said.

“If you look back to the territory that was covered by five officers, even though the city was less-populated, oftentimes response times were limited,” he said.

“The style of policing has changed to be more community-focused, such as our relationship with the school district through our schools’ liaison officer, and groups like the Brunswick Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association.”

Community Policing Coordinator Nick Solar joined the force as a patrol officer in 1978, in the wake of two local high-profile murder investigations. He said that while officers today still face age-old types of incidents, in some cases the venues have changed.

“When I started you had crimes against property, and today you still have crimes against property,” he said. “Right now, though, I think we are seeing more quality-of-life issues — neighbors not getting along and domestics, as opposed to large-scale residential burglaries.”

Insofar as crime occurring as it has for decades, Ohlin said the complexity of crimes — along with questions of jurisdiction — have become challenging with the advent of the Internet.

“On the flip-side, that technology, even things like video surveillance, has increased our ability to track criminals,” he said.

Perhaps even more disconcerting in the past couple decades is what Ohlin called “societal changes.”

“It used to be that people didn’t question authority,” he said. Now, he added, in addition to arresting criminals, police must be prepared for the almost-obligatory lawsuit by the accused.

Particularly noteworthy, both Ohlin and Solar said, is that same attitude toward police from juveniles.

“Even in my short career, or growing up, I was taught by my parents to respect a police officer as someone to go to for help,” Ohlin said. “There has been a shift to where anybody with adult authority is challenged.”

Which again, Ohlin said, makes the use of technology, an openness to the media, and the activities of organizations like the BCPAAA all the more vital as the department moves further into the 21st century.

“We really promote that,” he said. “We want them to be ambassadors — to tell people what we do and why we do it.”

Members of the Brunswick Police Department in 1965. From left are patrolmen Jack Brittain and Ron Kepler, Chief John Mrozik, Sgt. Clayton Crook, and patrolman George Mason.

Traffic enforcement has always been a top priority for the Brunswick Police Department. In this photo from the mid-1960s, Chief John Mrozik and Old Phoenix Bank President Day Chase are shown with a Brunswick Business Association-sponsored sign placed at the center of town displaying the number of traffic fatalities for the year in the city. At the time of the photo, there were already 14.