Dan Wyatt's motto: `If you can help someone, help them'

SGT. DAN WYATT will be leaving the Madison Police Department at the end of the month. A reception will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Friday in the commission meeting room of City Hall.

Summer lies before Dan Wyatt like a promise.

He has some projects he needs to catch up on around his house. He's going to do a little more fishing than he's had time for in recent years. He's planning to spend time with his granddaughters, Lorelei and Blake.

After that? He's not entirely sure what he's going to do with himself.

After working in law enforcement for 38 years, he will be retiring from the Madison Police Department on June 25. A reception is being held for him from 1-3 p.m. on Friday in the commission meeting room at City Hall.

"It sneaks up on you," Wyatt said recently in an interview. "I've been a cop for 38 years and it doesn't seem that long."

He began his law enforcement career in the U.S. Air Force. He grew up knowing he wanted a career in law enforcement and fully expected to serve in the military. Both are family traditions going back several generations.

"In my family, we have cops, and we have the other side," he quipped. He was not asked to elaborate on what he meant by "the other side."

He joined the USAF after graduating from high school in order to gain experience.

"At that time, you had to be 21 to be in law enforcement," he said.

However, Wyatt gained his first law enforcement career while serving. At his last duty station in Panama, he dealt with contraband, which included everything from drugs to diapers.

When he separated from active duty after 10 years, that experience helped him to land three job offers in a matter of days. He chose to begin his civilian career by working on a drug task force. He transferred to the Madison Police Department 27 years ago and has become an integral part of the community.

Wyatt ends his career as a sergeant, working the evening shift. When most persons are leaving work for the day, he's putting on his uniform, reviewing reports from the hours which have elapsed since he worked, and climbing into a patrol vehicle.

As the sun sets and into the dark of night, he will cruise the streets of Madison, keeping both his ears and his eyes open. As persons spend more time outdoors, he stops to chat with those who are working -- or in the case of children, playing -- outside.

When a call comes in, though, Wyatt responds. In doing so, he carries with him a commitment to address the situation in the most respectful manner possible.

"It's so much better to talk things out," Wyatt said. "If you can start a conversation and not dictate a conversation, you can solve a lot."

That is not to say he fails to make an arrest if necessary. If someone is driving under the influence, for his (or her) safety and the safety of the general public, the best course of action is making an arrest, Wyatt said.

However, even in these situations, he tries to listen. He tries solving problems by treating everyone with whom he comes in contact with respect.

"If you treat people with respect, you'll get it back in return," Wyatt said. In training newly hired officers, he advises them to treat everyone like a member of the family.

"People remember that one time you fail to listen or get their side of the story," he indicated.

Once an individual develops animosity toward an officer because of perceived unfair treatment, that perception cannot be changed. That will, in turn, shape any future interactions with the individual.

Wyatt has been actively involved with the Boy Scouts and the American Legion. He currently serves as the Adjutant for Post 25 in Madison.

He takes those responsibilities seriously. One of his first goals when he took over as Adjutant was to increase attendance at meetings.

"I started making some food at the meetings," he said, noting that he also cleaned up the group's meeting room in the Downtown Armory.

This drew inactive members out of the woodwork, increasing attendance to 20 or 30 at each meeting. Now other members volunteer to help prepare the food and are more engaged in Legion activities in the community.

He also does buddy checks on some of the veterans to see how they are doing.

"A lot of them are single," Wyatt explained.

As he counts down the days and reflects on his career, he admits the job has come with its challenges, but not the kind of challenges most people would expect. Keeping up the technology has been a challenge.

He used the example of preparing reports. When Wyatt started, reports were typed on a typewriter in the office; now officers have computers in their patrol vehicles.

Finding shared interests with young officers is also a challenge. They enjoy video games, which hold no allure for Wyatt. At the same time, he understands the importance of building a strong relationship with his young colleagues.

"This is my family," he stated. "The people I work with are my family."

In leaving his job, that's what he knows he will miss the most: those relationships.

"I'll miss the day-to-day stuff," Wyatt said. "I won't miss the domestics. I won't miss the sexual assaults. I will miss the people I work with."

While he doesn't know what the future holds, he does know that he will continue to be involved in the community in some way.

"I don't see myself being out of being involved with something," he said.

Wyatt ended the conversation about his career by sharing his personal motto: "If you can help someone, help them. It doesn't take any more effort to do good."