LAKE HALLIE — After 23 years serving in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and working in communities from Norfolk, Va., to Des Moines, Iowa, Edward Orgon was looking for a change.

Orgon said he wanted to conclude his law enforcement career as a police chief, and he began a nationwide search for job openings that he would find interesting.

“My lifelong goal was to be a chief of police,” Orgon said. “I think you make more of an impact in local law enforcement.”

Orgon, 52, officially became the new Lake Hallie police chief on July 18. He is working alongside Chief Cal Smokowicz, who is retiring at the end of August.

“It’s been great to get back into local law enforcement,” Orgon said. “The village is growing, and there is an opportunity for the police department to grow. It’s about the opportunity to help grow it, and move it forward. This is my last law enforcement job; I’m at the end of my career.”

When Smokowicz became chief in 2009, there were six full-time officers, including the chief position. Today, there are 10 full-time officers, including a detective position created by a 2017 referendum. There also are six part-time officers. Smokowicz said the growth in the force was needed to match the growth in the village.

“The village has grown 17% in population since I’ve been here,” Smokowicz said.

The village also is large geographically, at 14.5 square miles. In comparison, Chippewa Falls is 11.5 square miles, with twice the number of full-time officers.

Among Orgon’s first goals is to do a ride-along with each patrol officer, for two or three hours, to see how they operate.

“I’m just trying to get an overview of what’s out there,” he said. “I like what I see.”

Orgon is from Syosset, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Old Dominion University. He worked as a police officer in the Chesterfield County Police Department for eight years, before joining the DEA, taking assignments across the country. In Feb. 2018, he became resident agent in charge of a field office in Buffalo, N.Y., where he has worked for the past three years. Orgon applied for the Lake Hallie position in January, and he accepted the position in May. He officially retired from the DEA for 30 days before becoming the Lake Hallie chief.

Orgon said he got to know the Midwest during his DEA stint in Des Moines. He liked what he saw of the Chippewa Valley during his interview process.

“I saw a lot of ‘back the blue’ signs. That was very uplifting,” Orgon said.

Orgon has been married to his wife, Gina, for 23 years. He said it wasn’t too difficult to convince her to move to western Wisconsin.

“She’s moved six times with me for DEA,” he said. “She enjoys living in different areas of the country.”

Time for a change

Smokowicz, 57, announced his retirement plans more than a year ago.

“The time is right. I’ve had a great run,” Smokowicz said. “I’d do it all again. But there comes a time to pass the torch. No regrets. I’m glad I came here. It was a great opportunity.”

Not only has Smokowicz overseen the expansion of the public, his agency was the first in the county to get a K-9 unit, in 2014. He also acquired dash cameras and body cameras as soon as possible, saying they have been a great tool.

“We’ve accomplished a lot,” he said.

He also is proud of the department he is leaving behind.

“Our Police Commission goes to great lengths to hire and retain great people,” he said. “We want our officers to be professional and courteous while doing it.”

Smokowicz noted some tumultuous cases during his tenure, including a two-boat crash that killed four people in July 2011, an officer-involved fatal shooting at a Walmart in 2016, the fatal Girl Scout crash in 2018 that killed four people, and a home invasion in 2019 that led to the death of one resident there plus the shooter, and severe injuries to others in the home.

Prior to becoming Lake Hallie police chief, Smokowicz was already serving as a part-time chief in the village of Melrose. He is maintaining that job.

For years, Smokowicz and his wife, Michelle, talked about retiring to property they own near Melrose and opening a campground on the site. However, Michelle died in January; they were married for 34 years. Smokowicz said he talked with others about the plans he had with his wife, and he decided to press on and keep alive the campground plans.

“The campground is developing quickly,” he said. “Every minute I’m not here, I’m there.”

Smokowicz said her death also was a factor in his decision to stay beyond spring, and stick around through August, so he could work side-by-side with Orgon before turning the duties over entirely.

“The Police Commission thought it was important to have an overlap,” Smokowicz said. “My being able to be here, and show him what is available, he can learn, and make his own decisions.”