LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar retires after 28 years
Published 11:30 am Saturday, February 4, 2023
After 28 years, you get to know people.
It’s probably fair to say that LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar has felt a little bit like a celebrity the last week. It’s not that people wouldn’t normally stop and talk — of course they would — it’s that when a man who has led the police department for so long decides to retire, everyone wants to know what’s next.
Especially a man who has been renowned for his police work not only locally but also in the state of Georgia, across the United States and even around the world. That’s how a typical Tuesday lunch at Your Pie downtown ends up in a conversation with everyone who joins the line.
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“I’ve got over 1500 contacts in my phone, and I can reach a doctor and a plumber on the weekend, I’m not going anywhere,” joked Dekmar to friends, who happen to also be waiting to make their pizza order.
Soon, Dekmar finds himself in conversation with a couple of guys who work for UPS, who he’s gotten to know after being on the receiving end of so many deliveries.
When he gets to the front of the line to pay, he quietly tells the cashier that he’s going to pay for their food. A few minutes later, they lean their head out the door and say “thanks chief!” Dekmar waves, then minutes later casually finds himself in a couple more conversations when he leaves the restaurant.
It’s one of the joys of being in a small town, like LaGrange — getting to know everyone — and it’s something he’s excelled at during his nearly three decades as chief.
Dekmar grew up in Oregon and got his first taste of police work while in a local teen explorer program. After graduating high school, he went into the Air Force, where he was stationed two years in Cheyenne, Wyoming and two years in England as a law enforcement specialist.
He finished his military service in 1977 during the Misery Index, where there were double digits unemployment, double-digit interest rates and double-digit inflation.
“The one place that was popping was the Rocky Mountain region, particularly Wyoming,” Dekmar said.
He was able to get a job at the prosecutor’s office in Douglas, Wyoming for eight years. At that point, he got interested in becoming a police chief, but Wyoming doesn’t have many large cities. His wife, Carmen, told him she wanted to go somewhere where it didn’t snow nine months out of the year.
He called a friend he went to the national academy with and got a job in Macon, Georgia as a police officer. He was soon promoted to detective and then captain. In 1991, he became the police chief in Morrow, a city South of Atlanta. He stayed in Morrow for four years, and then moved to LaGrange where he’s served as police chief since 1995.
“Tom Hall was the city manager and had been the city manager in Morrow,” Dekmar said of how he got connected with LaGrange.
As far as his western roots go, Dekmar was happy to trade in heavy jackets for the warmer weather of Georgia. Now, he’s stuck around for 28 years.
“We are Southerners by choice now,” he said. “We love the west, but we love the South much more.”
In his introductory story with The LaGrange Daily News on May 13, 1995, Dekmar’s philosophy was compared to the popular Nike slogan, “Just do it.”
“See what the problem is and do a fair job of analyzing it,” he was quoted as saying back then. “But my God, after you’re done studying it, do something about it.”
For a newly retired person who spent 50 years in one profession, you’d expect there to be a culture shock when the alarm clock doesn’t go off the first few days. It’s a relief most retirees share. A night owl by trade — and demand — Dekmar said his schedule probably won’t be altered that much.
Typically, he wakes up around 9 a.m. and works until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m., enjoying the times when the office is quieter in the late afternoons. Then, he stays up, sometimes until 1 or 2 a.m. reading while handling police work if an incident occurs overnight.
“I will get calls or pages and most of those shut down after 1 or 2 in the morning,” Dekmar said.
As for why there won’t be much of a schedule change, he said he has enough interests that he expects he’ll stay just as busy.
“My life is not just my job here. Family, friends, teaching … I have a lot of different opportunities,” Dekmar said.
He said he’s very fortunate because he has a significant “depth of leadership” at the division level, at the unit level, at the squad level. He noted that there are 22 officers between the rank of sergeant and police chief at the LPD and 17 have master’s degrees, while two others are seeking master’s degrees.
He said the city of LaGrange deserves a lot of credit for creating an environment where people want to work for the police department.
“The city is committed to personal development, ensuring folks have opportunities to engage not only in the community but also engage professionally through associations and different areas of interest that they can pursue that’s related to the job,” he said. “I have folks that teach, I have folks that are trainers, I have folks that are assessors. Each time they go out and do something, they bring one of two things back — this is a great idea and we need to do it or I need to go make sure we aren’t doing this. Both of those are valuable lessons.”
Dekmar said he’d been thinking about retirement since last summer. He sent two of his captains to new chief school — Mike Pheil and Dale Strickland — just so the city would have strong internal candidates if and when he did decide to hang it up.
But then Thornton left in November and council members Jim Arrington and Willie Edmondson resigned to run for mayor. Longtime council member LeGree McCamey died in January 2022. There was a lot of change, and Dekmar started to think more and more that the time might be right to move on.
“In November, I told [City Manager] Meg [Kelsey] that it would probably be sooner rather than later,” he said.
He formally submitted his resignation in January, saying he never wanted to feel like a “lame duck” chief. He said all of the change wasn’t the only reason. Understandably, after five decades in policing, the time to retire was coming soon regardless.
“A new council deserves to have their own team, and how much am I prepared to change, if it requires any change?” he said. “It just feels like the right time.”