by James Coulter
After 27 years in law enforcement, Deputy Chief Troy Schulze has retired from the Lake Wales Police Department. Schulze recalls two important childhood memories that inspired him to follow his career path.
The first memory was of a long-retired officer Joe Elrod. He served a full career in law enforcement, and also as a little leauge baseball coach. Through him, Schulze was able to realize that cops were normal people with normal lives in his community.
The second memory was through peer counseling in Lake Wales High School. Deputies often took him and other students to elementary school to speak with students there. He even had the opportunity to ride along with the deputies. The quality time he spent with them inspired him to follow in their footsteps.
“The brotherhood, the professionalism, the camraderie, the uniform, the trust that I saw the community had in these few people, that was it, that was the inspiration,” he said.
Those two pivotal moments in his life inspired him to take up the badge. For 27 long years, he served his local community through the Lake Wales Police Department. He has announced his retirement, which will begin May 15, 2021.
Schulze lived a typical small-town life. He grew up in Lake Wales. He played little leauge baseball. He graduated from Lake Wales High School. He married a local girl, his high school sweetheart since 11th grade. They had two children, a son and a daughter.
He plans on spending quality time with his family, especially since their lives won’t be as frequently interrupted by police calls. Still, Schulze will miss the camraderie with his fellow officers.
For nearly three decades, he has heeded his higher calling to serve through law enforcement. His career brought him many highs and lows, but it will be the highs that he will cherish and miss the most now that he has retired.
“It has been a tremendous career,” he said. “I do believe law enforcement is a calling, and I am thankful for the protection. And it has been an amazing journey.”
Schulze took his first step in his career in 1992. He enrolled in the Law Enforcement Academy Track at Polk Community College. He graduated from the two-year program in 1994.
He spent six months as a reserve officer with the Lake Wales Police Department from May until Oct. 3, 1994. That was the day he officially began his full-time career as a police officer with the department.
Since then, Schulze had the honor of serving in most of the positions at the department. He has served as a field training officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and ultimately as deputy chief. He has worked in support services, patrol, K9 training, school resource, operations, and investigations.
“[I worked] a lot of assignments in between,” he said. “[They were] not always fun, but I feel that God has kept me safe and blessed me and given me support of family to give me a successful career.”
Chief Christopher Velasquez knew Schulze since the day he started. The two of them worked in a number of different areas. Velasquez has seen the former deputy chief exhibit all of the best qualities of a good law enforcement officer.
“He has always been a stand-up guy,” Chief Velasquez said. “He is well respected, hardworking, dedicated, a family man, meticulous of what he does, and we have always had a positive working relationship…He is just a great person and a great friend and he has been a great cop. He is just an awesome example for everyone to follow.”
Lieutenant David Black worked under Schulze under many positions. Schulze served as a true mentor who proved to be a good listener who offered solid advice and direction. No matter what position he served under, Black became close friends with his commanding officer, and he expects to continue that friendship long after his retirement.
“We have become close friends and our families are very close,” Lieutenant Black said. “I know we will still be friends, but I will miss getting to know him on a daily basis and talk to him and his leadership, and his department will miss his leadership. He is the chief’s right-hand man, he put a great man beside him, and we are going to miss him.”
Reverend JJ Pierce currently serves as the department’s senior chaplain. As the pastor of First Institutional Missionary Baptist Church, he worked alongside the police department to help bridge the gap between the racial divides within his community.
To help fulfill his goal, Rev. Pierce worked alongside Schulze. The pastor saw firsthand the deputy chief’s faith and how it influenced his life, both professionally and personally. Not only was he an officer of strong conviction, but also a family man with strong family values and ties.
“He has the ability and the strength to rule with his head as we execute the law, and yet he has compassion to also make decisions with his heart when necessary,” Rev. Pierce said. “His faith in God is his strength. What is believes directs and guides him. He is founded in the Christian faith, and he tries to follow the teachings of Jesus, so it is a great foundation to have.”
As a school resource officer, Schulze often visited local schools on calls. His time at the schools allowed him to meet many young children. He was able to meet many of their needs and likewise inspire them. Then there were the moments that truly inspired him.
One year, he supervised the bus load area during the last day of school for Christmas break. Schulze noticed a young boy sitting on a bench crying. He sat next to the young lad, consoled him, and asked him why he was crying. He learned the boy was not as excited as the other children to leave school for two weeks because he did not have a good home to return to.
“School was a safe place for him,” Schulze said. “He saw the teachers and me there as an officer as a safe place. He knew he had food. He knew he had friends. He knew he had people who could look after them and take care of them. He did have a home that cared for him, but financially, Christmas was not like that for a lot of other students.”
Meeting someone who was less fortunate than himself, especially during the holiday seasons, truly resonated with him. That memory lived on with him through his career and helped shaped his outlook as an officer.
“That story, it really impacted me that the children, their relationships we develop with them is important, to get to know them and their families,” he explained. “This young man completley opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about policing.”
Now that Schulze has retired from law enforcement, he plans on shifting gears and beginning a career with Chemical Containers, Inc. Moreover, he plans on spending more quality time with his family, something which was often interrupted with his previous occupation.
“As a police officer, you react to crisis, and crisis does not have a clock,” he said. “It could be any day of the week, any hour of the night, and you have to respond to it. So as much as I have enjoyed this job for the last 27 years, I am looking forward to time with family that is not interrupted as it has been.”