He always wanted to be a cop

Emmett Grissom, who fulfilled his childhood dream by climbing through the ranks of the Grafton Police Department from cadet to assistant chief, will retire after 34 years

GRAFTON ASSISTANT POLICE CHIEF Emmett Grissom held a display that hangs in his office containing the badges he has earned during this 34 years with the department. Grissom, who began his career as a cadet in the department, will retire next month. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Emmett Grissom always wanted to be a police officer. He even had the department he wanted to work for picked out — Prince Charles, Md.

“I was just driven the whole time,” Grissom said. “Helping people was always part of me.”

After his family moved to Grafton when he was 15, he set his sights on joining the Grafton Police Department.

He was hired by Police Chief Howard Thiede as a cadet officer when he was 18, rising through the ranks to become assistant police chief, and never left the department.

Until now. Next month, the 52-year-old Grissom will take his leave of the department, retiring on April 4.

“Thirty-four years is a long time,” he said. “I could keep going, but it just felt like this is the right time.”

Grissom “is the definition of a consummate professional,” Village Administrator Jesse Thyes said. “He is also one of the nicest people I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

“He has this amazing ability to remain calm and reasonable despite all the surrounding stress. He can weed through all the noise and figure out what we need to do.”

Police Chief Jeff Caponera, who joined the department in 2020, said Grissom “has been a lifeline for me. He’s been so helpful in my transition to the department.

“Emmett is just amazing. His level of dedication and commitment to the community is insurmountable,” Caponera said. “He’s done so much here. He really keeps the organization running.

“He’s one of the humblest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s an all-around great guy at work and outside of work.”

Grissom also has an incredible amount of institutional knowledge of the department and how it’s evolved, Thyes and Caponera noted.

“Those are some big shoes for someone to fill,” Thyes added.

Grissom said he’s always been community minded.

“It’s part of my nature, how I’m wired,” he said.

That’s apparent when you consider that in addition to his 34 years with the Grafton police department, Grissom — who is an Eagle Scout — also served in the Army Reserves and spent 15 years as a volunteer firefighter with the Cedarburg Fire Department.

At the police department, Grissom has served in virtually every capacity.

He “moved across the street” after graduating from Grafton High School and started work on Jan 30, 1989, as a cadet, a position intended for young people heading to college who wanted a career in law enforcement.

“I would work patrol or do dispatching,” he said. “I’d wash cars, change light bulbs in the building — whatever they needed. It was about getting your feet wet.”

He studied criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee during his two years as a cadet officer, and after earning more than 60 credits was hired as a full-time officer, a position he held for 15 years.

“I never finished my degree,” Grissom said, although he earned more than 70 credits toward it. “Life happens, and that got put on hold.”

While many young professionals seek jobs elsewhere after a few years, Grissom said he never felt that urge.

“This is the community my family made roots in and I was putting roots down in,” he said.

He became a sergeant for two years, then was named captain, a post he held for 13 years — including a one-year stintas interim police chief.

Two years ago, he was named assistant police chief.

He decided to seek a position in administration, Grissom said, because it fit his life better.

“The enormity of life was a big factor,” he said, noting he spent much of his time working third shift. “It’s tough on family life.”

His favorite job, he said, was sergeant.

  “You’re in charge of your own shift,” Grissom said. “Not only are you supervising the officers, but you’re mentoring them.”

When asked about memorable cases, Grissom said there aren’t many that stick out. But he did recall a night when he was on patrol and saw a garage on fire. He called it in and alerted the family, all of whom were sleeping.

The hardest calls, he said, involved death, including car crashes and suicides.

“You see the pain and anguish of the families,” he said.

Through the years, Grissom has seen many changes in law enforcement, but none has had a bigger impact than technology, he said.

“The job itself — police work is police work. It’s getting out there and helping people, investigating crimes,” he said.

“When I started out, I had a radio and a portable radio. Now you have computers in your car, cameras in your car. You can do everything from in your car.”

But as convenient as technology is, Grissom said, “we can still do the job without the technology. It just makes it easier.”

After all, he said, the biggest tool an officer has isn’t on his belt but in himself — the ability to communicate.

“This is a people business,” he said. “It’s the old adage, treat people the way you want to be treated.

“You have to remember, for many people, this may be the only time they deal with an officer. Keeping that in mind makes a big difference.”

That interaction, he said, is his favorite part of the job.

“That’s what we’re here for, to help people.”

The fact that no two days are alike is also a plus, Grissom added.

“Every day is a new adventure,” he said.

But it was difficult, Grissom said, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota as the Black Lives Matter movement began and police were being vilified by many.

“It was hard because you’re being painted with a broad brush,” he said. “Not all officers are like that. Most people in the profession are good.”

To deal with it, Grissom said, “You block it out. Then something always happens that reminds you people are good.”

You’ll be in the drive-through line at Culver’s and the car in front of you will pay for your meal, he said, or you’ll come in and there will be a table of goodies from local residents or businesses for officers.

“People do care and support us in this community,” he said.

Now, Grissom said, it’s time to look ahead. He and his wife Tammy plan to do some traveling and camping — and he’s got a new job, working field security for the Milwaukee Brewers.

“I’m excited,” Grissom said. “It’s a good fit. I’ve got a background in security, obviously, and I enjoy baseball.”

That’s evident in his office, where rows of bobbleheads depicting sports figures fill shelves. It’s a collection that started when going to baseball games with his family — he and his wife have three children.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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