Lewiston Police Chief Jason Kuzik looks forward to serving the community he now calls home.
Kuzik is adjusting to his role as the city’s top cop, a job he officially started last month. He and his wife, Sandy, are settling into Lewiston as well. Kuzik has never lived out of Las Vegas, his hometown, but has been welcomed into the department and community.
People have offered suggestions of places to go and things to do for entertainment and recreational activities.
“There’s no regrets, there’s no buyer’s remorse or anything like that,” Kuzik said.
He and his wife already enjoy the better traffic — everything is 10 minutes away — and the geography of the area compared to the “sprawlingness” of southern Nevada.
The Kuziks are searching for permanent housing, but are renting until they find the perfect home. Sandy Kuzik was a Realtor in Nevada but is looking for a career change after they are settled. Their son attends Boise State University and will come here during his holiday visits.
When it comes to law enforcement, Kuzik has had a varied career. He was hired by the Henderson Police Department in 1997 after earning a criminal justice degree from University of Nevada – Las Vegas. In the past 25 years, he’s worked in patrol, financial crimes, as part of a federal task force, Secret Service field office and computer crimes, to name a few. All of that experience helps him in his role as chief.
One of the areas he’s leaning on as chief is his work training other officers.
“Training is a huge component of the job,” Kuzik said about being police chief. “I’ve always put an emphasis on helping out the guys coming up.”
His goal is to set people up for success because the new recruits rising through the ranks will be the next generation of officers and detectives.
“In the long-term, it creates a sense of cohesion and it sets a culture of helping but also succession. We’re not always going to be in that position forever,” he said. “As long as you always have a culture of teaching and mentoring and succession, it benefits the agency.”
To get to know the department, Kuzik has been meeting with all employees, from patrol officers to those who work in communication. One aspect people in the department enjoy is the community policing approach in Lewiston, which was one of the draws for Kuzik to the position. He defines community policing as the practice of having officers who are engaged in the community and like talking to residents while on patrol, which makes citizens feel comfortable around police.
“That starts building that relationship and trust in the community. … When the community feels connected to the police department they’re much more apt to call us for situations,” Kuzik said. “It’s much better to have, instead of 50 sets of eyes of police officers, we have 35,000.”
Kuzik said research shows that when that relationship is built, citizens are more helpful to police. That creates a safer community for people when police and residents are working together.
It creates a better environment for police officers, too, because they feel support from the community.
“They realize they have to play a role and no one is exempt, up to myself,” Kuzik said.
He confirmed while talking with employees that there aren’t major changes needed in the department.
“The department is very strong, it’s got a very positive culture,” Kuzik said. “Everybody takes a lot of pride to make sure they’re professionally policing.”
And while he has been meeting regularly with employees, he wants to get even more experience with what the department does on a daily basis. He plans to spend time in dispatch to see what calls they receive and ride along on patrols to learn the layout of the city.
“That’ll help my learning curve too, making sure I’m doing a good enough job to move this agency forward and just evolve,” Kuzik said. “So there’s not really any changes, just over time how we’re going to get better at what we currently do.”
One long-term goal is to create a computer crimes division, which would forensically examine electronic devices for evidence, like emails or text messages.
“It doesn’t necessarily always solve the crime, but it usually helps supplement the evidence,” Kuzik said.
To help in other investigations, Kuzik will work to fill empty positions like patrol officers and detectives, and ideally would increase the number of officers and detectives. Doing so creates better flexibility with officers able to respond to complaints, even focus on high-complaint areas, he said, and help detectives manage their caseloads.
Another benefit to adding employees in the department is the opportunity for cross-training and giving people the option to pursue other assignments.
“It’s also important to get some experience where you have interest,” Kuzik said, so people can explore other career paths within the department.
Those experiences can let employees get a taste of a particular role and then determine if they enjoyed the different job or not. It also helps the department identify future detectives or school resource officers.
To assist in that area comes Kuzik’s first task: recruitment. It’s something he plans to tackle right away, but that comes with its own challenges. Worker shortages, as well as a downward trend of people interested in law enforcement as a career, is affecting recruitment efforts for departments across the nation, not just in Lewiston.
“It is a challenging job but it’s also a very rewarding job and I think that’s what needs to be emphasized,” Kuzik said about the benefits of being a police officer. “Ultimately at the end of the day, we are helping people — that’s what sometimes gets lost in translation.”
Despite the negative attention police officers can receive, Kuzik said people get into the profession to help people and those are the people Kuzik wants to attract to the department. Along with people who are the right fit and have the right skills to be police officers.
“Communication skills are important. Critical thinking skills are important, not how much do you bench press or how fast do you run. I want an officer that can do everything they can to de-escalate,” Kuzik said.
“We never ever get to encounter people generally on their best day. It’s people that are upset, they’re in crisis. … We need to be able to get people at least to a rational position and explain why we’re doing it.”
Brewster may be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 848-2297.