NAPPANEE -- Julie Dijkstra hangs up her brown and gold uniform to don blue threads as she transitions into the position of Nappanee's police chief next week.
Dijkstra, Elkhart County Sheriff Mike Books' undersheriff and a 26-year veteran of the sheriff's department, returns to head law enforcement in her hometown as Nappanee Police Chief Mike Anglin retires.
"I feel like I've accomplished as much as I can accomplish at the sheriff's department," Dijkstra said at a recent interview at the Nappanee Police Department. "This is my hometown, and I just thought this would be a great stepping stone to continue my law enforcement career and take it to another direction."
Dijkstra's move comes after years at the sheriff's department in the roles of jail officer, patrol officer, lieutenant, administrative captain and Books' chief deputy. She came in second of six candidates behind sheriff-elect Brad Rogers in the May Republican primary.
"Obviously I was very disappointed in the outcome of the primary, but this job as Nappanee has kind of made me look at things differently and say, well, things happen for a reason and maybe this is what's best for me," she said. "I'm satisfied with that."
Anglin served as Nappanee police chief for 10 years. He announced his retirement in October, citing personal reasons. Anglin will remain as a sergeant on the force. He plans to retire from Nappanee police around Dec. 13, 2013.
Dijkstra's plans for her first year on the force include achieving Nappanee's law enforcement accreditation with the state association, to establish written policies and procedures and heighten professionalism throughout the department. She said she also wants to step up the 15-member department's community-oriented policing in a town that doesn't see much crime. That includes making police officers more visible in the community and expanding the current school resource officer program, while keeping an eye on the budget.
"(Residents) may start seeing officers more often in places where they didn't expect to see them, maybe walking downtown, maybe going into businesses and just checking to see how things are going," she said. "Maybe they'll see squad cars in their neighborhood more as we exercise proactive patrol."
Still, Dijkstra said she has been working with code enforcement to address complaints such as abandoned cars, something that is easier to do in a small town than throughout the whole county.
She returns to a town with a population of around 6,700 that spans Elkhart and Kosciusko County. It's the town where her children grew up and and where she knows many people, as she discovered shortly after Nappanee Sgt. Brant Allen "Butch" Nine's death in 1988, when she and other sheriff's deputies worked patrol for the Nappanee police department. At that time, she knew just about everyone she pulled over on traffic stops.
"I said, 'I could never work in this town,'" she said.
Dijkstra said she would have liked to be at the sheriff's department to see the results of employees' efforts there through the past eight years to reduce recidivism and introduce new programming for inmates. But she looks forward to a new challenge that doesn't involve resolving inmate issues -- something she says took 80 percent of her time as undersheriff.
"Being able to focus just on law enforcement is going to be kind of a different job for me," she said. "I'm looking forward to it."