As the new chief of police, John Wahl is the top cop for the Town of Byron, filling the “big shoes” of Chief Frankie Rohrer.
He began work on May 8 and is replacing longtime and well-known Rohrer, hired as the town’s lone law enforcement officer in July 1999. His final day on the job is set for June 29.
Wahl, 46, a native of Lackawanna, N.Y., has been in law enforcement more than two decades and has experience in many facets during his career, which began in 1988 with the St. Cloud Police Department in Florida. As he admired his two uncles in law enforcement, that prompted him to graduate from the Seminole County Police Academy in 1987.
In St. Cloud until June 2003, he variously served as a patrol officer, motorcycle traffic officer and school resource officer and gained a background in criminal investigations. After St. Cloud he devoted 14 months overseas under contract to the U.S. State Department as a civilian police instructor in Pristina, Kosovo. “I liked it, as it was interesting work,” said Wahl. He was in charge of a training unit of emergency medical technicians who worked to instruct local officers as first responders. Additionally, Wahl was connected to efforts at the police academy in Vustri.
When the contract concluded early in 2005, he and his wife, Veronica, who celebrated 23 years of marriage earlier this month, moved to Haines, Alaska, some 90 air miles out of Juneau. Wahl served as a sergeant for the Haines Police Dept. and was interim chief for his last five months there. His career next took him to Douglas, Wyo., where he worked for the past 3 1/2 years as a patrol officer before applying for the job as chief of Byron’s one-man department.
He took some specialized courses at the Wyoming Police Academy in Douglas and then underwent a challenge test to become certified in the Cowboy State. He was able to accomplish that because of his years of experience in various areas of law enforcement. Wahl said that he is one mathematics credit short of earning his associate degree in criminal justice and criminal law.
“I applied for the Byron job,” Wahl said, “because I decided that after 24 years of law enforcement and supervision in that field I could be the right person for the post.” He was one of six applicants, four of whom were interviewed, and he was offered the position by Mayor Bret George.
Wahl is complimentary toward the outgoing chief. “He has been an exceptional mentor,” he stated. “He has made the transition exceptionally smooth” and has gone out of his way to introduce the new chief to others in law enforcement. Wahl said that because of Rohrer he has met the chiefs and staff of the police departments in Lovell and Cowley, plus the county sheriff and the two court attorneys.
Although Byron (population approximately 560) is the smallest community in which Wahl has served, “I am familiar with how small towns operate,” he stated. “I’m looking forward to the challenges of being chief here and getting to know the residents. I plan to be on the job in Byron for the next 10 to 12 years.”
Regarding law enforcement in the town, he stated that, “It’s critical to be consistent in enforcing laws. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, we simply need to maintain that consistency and conduct proper law enforcement in our town.” As for the 30 mph speed limit down Main Street, “we enforce that,” he said, although if drivers aren’t going more than 8 mph past the limit they likely will not be cited.
During his years of service the new chief has not fired his weapon, he said, although he’s been in some heavy situations during which he had to draw it. One occurred in Douglas where he and his companion officer responded to a domestic violence call and a man in a mobile home fired several shots at them through a window. The man, who had five children with him, nearly hit Wahl’s companion and the shooter subsequently was arrested and is in Converse County on charges of attempted murder.
Other close calls in his career have included a man who pointed a gun at him during a foot pursuit and another time when a man drew a knife. In both cases, noted Wahl, “I got them to drop their weapons” without firing a shot. He attributes dealing with such situations in the best way to his training and experience.
The new chief’s wife will move to Byron in July from Douglas where she is site manager for the Douglas Senior Center. “It’s tough for her to give up the job and she’s going to be missed there,” said Wahl. “She’ll be looking for employment in this area.”
By Bob Rodriguez