Sgt. Dave Podewils’ beat is Grafton High School, where for 26 years his friendly, understanding manner has earned him the respect and admiration of students
When Sgt. Dave Podewils walks the halls at Grafton High School, he’s more of a celebrity than a police officer.
Hugs, handshakes, hellos and smiles from staff and students are genuinely returned.
Those are the kind of relationships “Pods,” as he’s affectionately known, has formed in serving as police liaison officer since 1991.
“He took the time to get to know our kids. Students felt like he generally cared about them, and that’s because he did,” Principal Scott Mantei said.
Podewils, who officially retires May 1 after 42 years with the department, said that was part of his job.
“That’s all I do, really all day is communication,” he said. “The whole program to me is being a resource.”
Forming positive relationships with youth at an early age opens up communication channels that may never otherwise have been created.
“I think kids feel if they know me more, it’s easier for them to communicate with me,” Podewils said.
“They know I’m not out to get them. I’m there to help them not get arrested.”
Podewils was the high school’s second police liaison officer, after the program started in 1975, one of the first of its kind in the state.
Podewils’ service extends beyond high school. He took over the Safety Town program, which each summer teaches incoming kindergarten students how to travel to school safely, in addition to gun safety, poison and school bus procedures and safety.
One way Podewils tracks his impact is how he’s received at elementary schools.
“I can measure it by walking through the hallway,” he said, “and having little, little kids, and say ‘Hi Pods,’ and they give me hugs. That’s the best thing.”
Being a police officer, he’s seen the worst things as well — fatal car accidents and the impact drugs have on otherwise good kids.
“Drugs drive kids to not be the same kids that you thought they were,” Podewils said.
One of the biggest changes Podewils has seen in his 26 years at the school is the impact of cell phones. Students communicate faster now with more people and in more ways than ever, which can be both good and bad, he said.
Doing his job with compassion had Podewils playing “good cop” in all scenarios when working with administrators, he said.
Caring so much and staying so long was a key in creating a positive school culture, Mantei said. It wasn’t a different police officer coming to school all the time.
“The consistency is so important,” he said. “Our students highly respected him. The role he played here over time was invaluable.”
Podewils is quick to spread credit across the school.
“It’s not just one person,” he said. “It’s the team of people that work in the school. It’s the principal, the teachers.”
A Germantown native, Podewils moved to Grafton in 1982, and his son and two daughters came through the schools while he was liaison officer. The girls had one request for dad’s involvement.
“The only thing my daughters said is you can never go to a dance,” Podewils said.
Podewils has made a positive impact in more than just the Grafton School District. He was Grafton’s first Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) officer, through which he became connected to the village’s three parochial schools, St. Paul, St. Joseph’s and Our Savior.
Grafton Police Chief Charles Wenten said Podewils’ disposition sets him apart.
“I’ve never heard him say ‘We can’t,’ or ‘That’s not the way we’ve done it before.’ He takes on anything with a smile,” he said.
While school liaison officer was Podewils’ main job, Wenton said he never missed other department tasks or trainings.
“There was no aspect of his job that he did not participate in,” he said.
“It was commonplace for him to be engaged in calls for service and still serve the needs of the schools.”
Wenten said Podewils’ impact on the schools and community is immense. Comparing Podewils’ salary to what it costs to incarcerate someone for one year — not including costs for what the person did before being caught and convicted — makes Podewils invaluable.
“If he made a difference to one individual over those years, his salary has paid for itself time and time again,” Wenten said.
Beyond his police work, Podewils became one of the faces of the Grafton community.
“It was difficult to find anyone who, if you say, ‘Grafton,’ they would respond ‘Oh, do you know Pods?’ That’s so refreshing,” Wenten said.
Podewils was the first police cadet Grafton hired in 1975, after he graduated from Waukesha County Technical Institute, now Waukesha County Technical College.
He was hired full time in 1977 and was the first Grafton officer to go to the Milwaukee Police Academy, which he said allowed a limited number of suburban officers to attend.
Early in his career, he rode a motorcycle and served as juvenile officer.
When he was promoted to sergeant, he was going to move to third shift and leave his school liaison position.
But community members convinced the powers that be to keep Podewils in the schools.
After calling every day a “new adventure,” Podewils will be looking for different experiences in retirement. He’s still a part-time officer for the Village of Fredonia and he enjoys collecting Mack Trucks. He has 500 small ones in his collection and a real 1935 Mack fire truck. He likes the brand so much he covered his squad car’s company logo with a Mack decal.
Podewils said he will miss his job for at least a while.
“I’ve had a wonderful time and I like my job. I’m glad to say that,” he said.
While Podewils’ role is changing, his disposition won’t.
“I try to be a nice person. That’s got me a long way,” he said.
Image Information: Grafton Police Sgt. David Podewils, better known as Pods, was a celebrity in the Grafton High School cafeteria last Friday on his last day at the school as liaison officer. Surrounding Podewils from left were Jonathan Stippich, Jackson Palubiski, Daniel Dowty (back), Michael Drescher, Lucas Kellner and Kyle Proefrock. Photo by Sam Arendt