Police chief set to retire in June

Published 7:40 am Friday, May 20, 2016

After 30 years on the Bogalusa police force and after six years as chief, Joe Culpepper is preparing to step away.

Technically the chief will retire in December, but for all practical purposes, he will work through June 1. That’s when his vacation begins, and he will continue on vacation leave until he is retired.

And then?

Culpepper said he doesn’t know what it will be like not going to work every day, though he said he’s sure to miss police work.

“It’s just been a pleasure to serve the citizens of Bogalusa for the last 30 years,” Culpepper said.

He is wrapping up his career at the top of his profession, but Culpepper said the best part of his job was just helping people when he could.

“So often you do some little thing that doesn’t mean anything to you, but to them it means the world,” he said.

Not that his job has been easy. Over the decades, Culpepper has handled some of the worst, more gruesome crimes in the city. Asked for a list of memorable cases, he doesn’t miss a beat.

“There have been some cases that tore me up,” he said. “There was a rash of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) cases in 1996. Four or five of them. We couldn’t figure out any explanation for a common cause or anything, and I remember telling my captain at the time that I’d done my last baby autopsy because I had a 3-year-old at home.”

He said the crimes against children were among the worst. He remembered one case where a mother stuck her baby in a dryer and turned it on. And, sometime in the 1990s — he can’t remember when — there was a 12-year-old girl who was raped. Her throat was cut open, and she was dumped on an ant bed in her backyard.

She lived, thankfully.

“To this day I think the only reason she didn’t die is because she didn’t know she was supposed to,” Culpepper said.

Of course, the job was more than heartache and tragedy. Some of the cases were just interesting.

“I was part of the first trial for the state’s first bank fraud law,” he said.

Culpepper said he was just lucky that the first time the law was broken happened to be in Bogalusa.

Culpepper began his career in the detective division, and the work had an immediate attraction for him.

“I thoroughly enjoyed that type of work,” he said.

Though, he adds, he could never recruit “snitches.” Rather than cut potential tipsters some slack in exchange for information on a bigger case, he’d just toss them in jail.

“I didn’t cultivate them like I should have. When I rolled up on people doing wrong, I’d just throw them in jail,” he said.

Culpepper said in life generally he doesn’t like expecting favors in return for service and, he believes a good officer shouldn’t.

“You don’t go looking for a payout,” he said. “You should just want to help people. You should not go looking for a favor in return.”

Culpepper said he developed his system of ethics by taking the best from each of his co-workers and leaders through the years.

“Every policeman has their own way of doing things,” he said. “Everyone has their own way of thinking. So, you try and pick the best ones. You just pick the best things from the individual officers.”

Culpepper doesn’t have much advice for whoever might fill his shoes, but he does recommend the city should look for a couple of characteristics in the next chief.

“Dedication and knowledge,” he said. “If you’re not dedicated, you might as well hang it up right now. Because it’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. Now, with cell phones, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Florida laying on the beach — if they need you, they’re going to call you.”

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette said the city will likely begin searching for a replacement for Culpepper next month. Perrette is Culpepper’s fifth mayor, and she said she’s enjoyed working with him.

“He’s a great guy and I’ve enjoyed working with him. He’s a really a nice person,” she said.