Faces — Todd Slezak
When Todd Slezak was 16 years old, he was on a ‘ride along’ with an Orange County police officer when a call came in about a missing clerk at a dry cleaning establishment. He was involved in a special Explorer Scout program and had become a teen Police Cadet. The officers responded and discovered that a young woman who was working alone inside the dry cleaners had gone missing with apparently no explanation. A little while later, another call came in and the girl had been found D in a bathtub at a nearby hotel, strangled to death.
This incident left a deep impression on the young cadet. “I thought, how awful that this can happen to a young girl who is only 16, my age, so I decided then that I wanted to continue in police work,” says Slezak. His face takes on a satisfied expression when he recounts that the police caught the murderers.
In Slezak’s 15-year police career, he’s seen the grimy side of urban life as a beat officer, and was one of the riot control police when south-central L.A. exploded in riots over the “not guilty” verdicts arising out of the Rodney King incident. Slezak came to Truckee after serving for six years in the Whittier, Calif. police department, where he worked as a patrol officer, detective and bicycle patrolman.
“I liked the police work, but it started to wear on me, all the gangs and the drive-by shootings,” he says.
Slezak hasn’t always seen the heavy side of life. After high school, Slezak attended Golden West Junior College in Huntington Beach, Calif., and worked at Disneyland. Evidently, he takes a lot of ribbing from fellow Truckee police officers about his Disney years, where he was employed as a parade dancer and character entertainer. He wouldn’t ‘give up’ much information about the latter, but did admit that ‘being’ Tigger, of Winnie the Pooh fame, was his favorite.
After his ‘Tigger’ years, Slezak joined the Navy, where he served as an Aviation Maintenance Administration Man, Petty Officer 3rd Class. He was on the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy when its fighter planes had to shoot down two of Quaddahfi’s Libyan ‘MIG’ jets as they attacked. “We found out about shooting the Libyan fighters down before President Reagan did,” Slezak says, recounting this terrible and exciting event in his military life.
During Desert Storm, Slezak was on a carrier in the Red Sea when he nearly died in a freak accident. An A-6 attack bomber took off in a hurry and he was hit with the jet blast. He fell nine stories into the water, his body hitting a railing on its way down. He spent two months in the ship’s hospital recovering from lacerations and other serious trauma, including pneumonia from ingesting a couple of lungs full of sea water.
Slezak says he might have nine lives, but hasn’t used them up yet. “I was also rescued from a burning house when I was a baby by a firefighter and a policeman, so you might say my association with police work goes way back,” he says. Slezak was born in North Dakota and has the traditional Norwegian roots of so many of that state’s natives. His parents divorced when he was a child, and was eventually adopted by a stepfather who gave him the Czechoslovakian name “Slezak.”
Slezak joined the Truckee Police Department in August last year. Asked how he felt about some of the angst over having a police department in Truckee, Slezak is philosophic: “When we go out on a call, we see people at the worst time of their lives when something has traumatized them, and we have to get involved in the situation, so we sometimes look like ‘the bad guys’ but it’s all just part of the job,” he says, adding, “There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, and we (the officers) understand that.”
Many Truckee residents have assumed police officers who’ve joined the local police are from Los Angeles area departments, something Slezak says is untrue and unfair. “I’m the only one from L.A., the other officers are mostly from small town departments and places like Palm Springs,” he says.
Slezak and his family moved to Truckee after he saw a flier about the creation of a new police department. “I’d never heard of Truckee, Calif., and so I drove up to apply,” he says. “I was really impressed with the town. I am very fortunate to have gotten this job in such a beautiful place.” Slezak says when he was in training, he’d look outside at the mountains and repeat to himself over and over again, “Wow. I live and work here. Wow.”
Someday, Slezak would like to be a police chief in a town like this one. “Everyone here is so down-to-earth, so nice, I just feel real fortunate to be here where I can enjoy the beauty, raise my family, and learn from my fellow officers and commanders, all who have a lot of experience,” he says. “I’m very impressed with the people in this department.”