“Being reliable, ensuring things get taken care of, and helping when needed.” Those are three qualities that Steilacoom’s retiring senior public safety office, Rod Rodriguez, cites as being qualities for a good public servant.”
The mood at a popular Lakewood-area restaurant, Mis Tres Amigos, was festive and somber this past Thursday afternoon. Seated around the long table just inside the eatery’s dining area, about a dozen of Steilacoom’s “finest,” including Chief Bob Drozynski, Officer Larry Whelan, Officer Manager Sharon Shimizu, and the rest of the boys in blue gathered to mark the retirement of long-time Steilacoom PSO Senior Sgt. Rod Rodriguez.
Earlier in the week, he’d received a shadow box frame that included his badge, as a memento, from the Town. A couple years ago the community honored him by naming him as Grand Marshal for the traditional Fourth of July parade.
“It was time (to retire), said Rod, who’s served as a town Public Safety officer for more than 30 years. Before becoming one of the first PSOs in 1986, he served the department as a police officer-who also worked as meter reader and dog-catcher in the early days. “That was before the term ‘multi-tasker’ came into vogue,” Rod says.
Later he became one of the first of the town’s officers to become a PSO. This past year, the town marked the 20th anniversary of that decision.
Born in Waukegan, Ill. Rod came to the area in the early 50s when his father, an MP was stationed at Ft. Lewis. Watching his dad at work inspired him to follow in his footsteps, he continues, although it wasn’t until the late 70s that he embarked on a law enforcement career.
After graduating from Lakes High, Rod served in the Army, then worked as a machine operator for Boeing and ABC Cookies (a cookie manufacturer once located behind the B&I on South Tacoma Way). His work experience included making pizzas at a one-time Ponders pizza parlor.
In the early days of Public Safety in Steilacoom, the cop shop was located in what is now the mayor’s office at Town Hall. It moved from that site to the balcony area of the building, before relocating next to the present-day Chambers Bay Realty Office building. From that location the police department moved into the “new” town administration office at 1715 Lafayette Street before moving up the hill to a new office at the top of Main Street. That building was renovated in the mid-90s.
One of a unique breed of “men in blue” Rod has spent his entire law enforcement career within the town’s 2.1 square miles, 11 of them as a Lieutenant, and most recently as a Senior Sergeant. He’s never regretted that decision.
“What I most enjoy about Steilacoom,” he says, “has been the ability to spend more time helping the people.”
Highlights of that 30+ year career would fill a book, which he may someday write, he says, but in the meantime he shares a few memorable experiences such as the time he received a call from a woman who wanted to “buy diapers and milk.”
Concerned that the call might not be an entirely legitimate, Rod responded and discovered that the woman, who spoke little English, did need to acquire those items. She wanted to go to the store to buy those things for her grandchildren whom she was watching. Not having a car, nor anyway around, Rod offered to take her to the store. “I even pushed the cart around for her at Albertsons, then drove her home.”
Another incident involved a woman he helped during a Domestic Violence call. The woman, Rod said, came up to him several years later and thanked him for intervening and saving her life.
“Those memories make me feel good,” he said, “knowing that I made a big difference in their lives.”
The oldest of three sons, Rod says he’s always been law-abiding. Only one time, he remembered, was speeding along I-5 returning from Seattle (about 12 miles over the posted 70 mph limit) in the late 60s to pick up his younger brother. He knew he was driving over the posted speed limit, and when he spotted the cop parked beneath the overpass, he just pulled over. A speeding ticket in those days, he adds, was not very expensive.
During his career with Steilacoom, Rod and his wife, Yvonne, raised five children. Yvonne has been a Steilacoom volunteer for 25 years, in addition to 20 years’ service as a paramedic, Rod noted.
Balancing their work schedules was always a challenge, but it worked out. One of their sons, James, currently is a captain at Wright-Patterson AFB. Another son, Jon, works for Amtrak on the Empire Builder route.
So what’s in store for Rod? Besides cleaning out all the memorabilia that decorates his office wall at Public Safety, he has no major plans other than spending time with his grandsons and visiting his other children.
As for whether he’d be tempted, now that he’s retired, to chase speeders, Rod says, “No way.” He’s never been someone who took his work home with him. But, he adds, he would help, if needed.
Now that Rod’s retiring, PSO Larry Whelan is the “senior guy” with 17 years on the force.
The public safety concept, an economical way to operate law enforcement in this small community, has been “good for this town,” he says. The concept still holds true, even though the town continues to need help (through mutual aid agreements) with fire fighting, such as the recent tragic fire earlier this month.
As for “cold cases”-there are still a few, but he’s confident they’ll be resolved.
Rod adds that he will continue to help out at the Western Washington Fair each September, joining with fellow law officers from around the county, who provide police protection during the fair’s annual run.
But for now, this “honest cop” says he’s just “gonna relax.”