Monday, July 12, 2010

Mike Smitley

Ex-Chief talks about police, politics and publishing in rural America
Retired Police Chief Mike Smitley spent thirty years in law enforcement before turning in his badge and stepping into the publishing world. His cop resume would make any policeman proud—directed drug and homicide task forces, served as a SWAT team leader and sniper, criminal investigator, trainer and street cop. Mike spent the latter part of his law enforcement career as the chief of several police organizations.

Since leaving law enforcement, Mike used his police experiences as background for several novels before using his talents to create Father’s Press, a small press operation in Missouri. He currently resides there with his wife and two sons. Mike has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice and a Master’ degree in Administration of Public Affairs.

Hook’em and Book’em has visited police officers on both coasts. We have even traveled to Iraq to learn about police operations in that war-torn country. Today, we travel to middle lands of this country, where life is presumable slower and a little more sane. Or is it?

MARK: Mike, thanks for joining us today. Let us begin be learning about how you got into law enforcement. Why did you get into this line of work?

MIKE: Law enforcement was always something that I knew that I would do, even as a small child. I always knew policemen had a dramatic impact on society and were the thin line between peace and chaos. I’ve always believed that it was the most important job a person could have.

MARK: Where did you serve and what paths did your career take you?

MIKE: I worked for 23 years in Lee’s Summit, MO, then took the police chief job in a small town in northern Wisconsin, then took a chief’s position at Junction City, KS. I then ran a drug task force in Kansas City.

MARK: What did you find most interesting about police work?

MIKE: The most interesting thing was the ingenious ways the human mind finds to circumvent the law and society’s norms. The diversity of people never ceases to amaze me.

MARK: What did you find most challenging?

MIKE: The most challenging thing is the creativity and insight needed to determine what events transpired through the evidence left by human behavior.

MARK: What are some of the interesting cases you worked on?

MIKE: The most interesting cases were always the most complex ones. And none were more challenging than homicide cases.

MARK: What have been some of the most significant changes in law enforcement as you look back over your career?

MIKE: The most significant changes are the technological advances made in forensics and communications. Science and technology have greatly increased the effectiveness of policemen and increased the success rate in complex cases.

MARK: You have worked for police agencies that seem to range from small to medium size. What are some of the difficulties a small town chief faces in trying to meet the needs of the community with limited resources?

MIKE: The hardest thing for me was the political issues that cropped up. There are so many conflicting interests in small towns and frequently councils and other power brokers divide up into factions over issues. If there is not common ground on which a chief can bring both sides together, he has to choose. And with dwindling funds resulting from a depressed economy, a chief has to find creative ways to do more with less. And in the final analysis, one can only do so much with the resources that are available. Before long you are restricted to trying to get by with old and worn out equipment and only the basic training necessary to maintain the officers’ state certification. You can’t expand or modernize your department and the community suffers.

MARK: I would imagine working for a small agency allows more personalized interaction with the community. Have you found this to be true? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages?

MIKE: It can allow you more time for public interaction if you have competent commanders who can handle operational and personnel issues that crop up on a daily basis. But incompetent or uninvolved commanders and supervisors can leave a chief so consumed with managing the affairs of the department that he has little time for public interaction. Also in a depressed economy, frequently vacated positions are not filled leaving existing supervisors spread too thin with too many people or units to supervise, requiring more involvement by the chief. So with adequate funding and competent personnel under you, a chief can be more involved.

MARK: There is always a dark side to law enforcement by its very nature. Evil versus good if I might characterize it as such. What helped you deal with this nasty side of the job? Those situations which seemed hopeless?

MIKE: Situations seem hopeless because they challenge the resources and ingenuity of a person who looks at life through an earthly, secular view. It’s important for an officer’s sanity to recognize those things that he can change and those that he cannot. And he must realize that there is a higher power running every life on earth. If we look at ourselves as merely a tool to that higher power, God, then it’s easier to sleep at night knowing that you did the best job you could and that ultimately, responsibility of a person’s conduct lies solely on the shoulders of that person. We’re all subject to trials and tribulations and our degree of success in handling them is directly proportionate to our personal relationship with God.

MARK: What led you to leave law enforcement?

MIKE: I had accomplished all one could in the profession and wanted to explore other interests. I liked writing and found that rewarding. I have five novels in print with another due out next summer. I started a publishing company and find that I can help other authors get published as well as publishing my own books. I still love law enforcement and may return to it at some point.

MARK: How has life been after law enforcement? How did Father’s Press come to be?

MIKE: It was challenging. I started Father’s Press as a venue through which I could publish and market my own books. But I found such a demand for assistance by authors who are frustrated by all the obstacles in the publishing business. I began taking on controversial books that other publishers wouldn’t take on, and before long the business had taken on a life of its own. It’s like a child because you can’t stop it from growing.

MARK: What accomplishments and challenges have you found in the publishing industry?

MIKE: The hurdles were unbelievable. Every day I found obstacles at every turn that were purposely placed there to block new writers from getting published. Large publishers and agents had created a catch 22 situation where new authors were essentially locked out of the business. But through the sound advice and assistance of some good people, I was able to break or overcome most of them and help new writers get established as well as selling my own books.

MARK: What do you see as the future of Father’s Press? What goals do you want to achieve?

MIKE: We will have 40 books in print by Christmas. If our product line continues to grow, I see Father’s Press being a viable mid-sized publishing company in only a few years. I want it to be a valuable resource for new authors and anyone wanting to establish their own publishing company. I’d like to change the rules and make book publishing available to anyone who has a commitment to polish their craft and the determination to get out there and do what it takes to sell books.

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