Retiring public safety director credits family, faith and teamwork for success

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published January 14, 2021

 After more than four decades in law enforcement — most recently, as Grosse Pointe Shores’ public safety director — John Schulte will be retiring Jan. 26.

After more than four decades in law enforcement — most recently, as Grosse Pointe Shores’ public safety director — John Schulte will be retiring Jan. 26.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — He’s worn different uniforms and had different titles during his more than 40 years in law enforcement, but there’s been one important constant that’s been a part of the dress code for Grosse Pointe Shores Public Safety Director John Schulte.

Affixed to the protective trauma plate underneath those uniforms has been a medal of St. Michael — the patron saint of police officers — that Schulte’s mother, a nurse and devout Catholic, gave him when he first decided to go into law enforcement.

“She thought this was the protection I needed, and the good Lord has kept me safe these 42 years,” said Schulte, a Grosse Pointe Woods resident.

Schulte — who will retire Jan. 26 after nine years as the Shores’ public safety director — said he’s had many people to thank over the course of his career, which included 32 years working for the Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Department, where he ended his tenure in 2010 as the deputy director. They include his many mentors — among them, former Park Public Safety Chiefs Dave Hiller and Richard Caretti, former Park Deputy Director Bill Furtaw, former Park Sgt. Tom Martin, longtime friend and retired Shores Public Safety Director Gary Mitchell and retired Grosse Pointe City Public Safety Director Skip Fincham. They also include the many officers and supervisors he worked alongside.

“No one gets there alone,” Schulte said. “That’s how I feel about my career. I’ve had so many people help get me to where I am.”

Schulte said his wife of 38 years, Colleen — a nurse and certified lactation consultant who heads the lactation program at Ascension St. John Hospital — has been his greatest source of support, encouraging him to finish his master’s degree in public administration at Wayne State University even though it meant he was attending night school while the couple was raising three young children.

“I could not have accomplished what I have in my career without her love and respect,” Schulte said.

He was hired as a patrol officer in the Park in 1978 — just a few years before the police and fire departments would be merged into a single Public Safety Department. Schulte, who graduated from WSU with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 1977, moved his way up the ranks in the Park, eventually becoming the deputy public safety director, a position he held for nine years until his retirement in 2010. But at age 55 when he retired, Schulte wasn’t quite ready to put the badge away for good. In January 2012, he started as the Shores’ public safety director.

“Every day, I kind of pinch myself that this job opened up,” Schulte said. “What a great opportunity this was.”

With the assistance of the officers and command staff, Schulte said they updated all of the Shores’ policies and procedures, upgraded scout car cameras twice, upgraded in-car computers two years ago, got new and more reliable radios, and upgraded the department’s ballistic vests.

“At the end of each meeting, I tell my command staff I don’t run this department — you do,” Schulte said. “I can write policies and procedures, but unless the command staff enforces them, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Hiller said Schulte had the respect of his officers because they knew they could trust him and his decisions.

“You don’t want to alienate the guys,” Hiller said. “You want to earn their respect. And John never had a problem with that. It’s one thing to respect the title. It’s another to respect the person who holds the title.”

Hiller calls Schulte “a true professional officer” and “a very family-oriented man.” Schulte has three grown children — Annie, a headhunter for executives; Kelly, who works for an executive placement company; and Christian, an actor.

“John is very thorough,” Hiller said. “He thinks out the problem before he reacts. As an officer on the street or as a supervisor, you were comfortable knowing he was there.”

Hiller and Schulte were instrumental in the Park’s conversion from separate police and fire departments to a combined Public Safety Department, and they were the first Park police officers to train in Detroit Fire Department stations. In a short span of time, “We fought a lot of fires and we learned a lot,” Hiller said.

But after four decades, Schulte — who’ll turn 65 in April — said he decided “it was time” for him to retire for good.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working for the residents of this community,” Schulte said. “They’re so generous and so giving. This truly is a family. I can’t tell you how many good friends I’ve made in my time in the Shores. And they’ll be (my) friends forever. It’s truly a unique community. It’s been incredible.”

Those who’ve known and worked with Schulte said his skills, work ethic and dedication to his profession have been hallmarks throughout his career.

Mitchell, who’s lived in the Shores for more than 40 years, was on the committee that searched for Poloni’s replacement when he retired. The city got 17 applications, but Schulte stood out as “the most qualified,” not only because he knew the area well, but also because of his leadership experience in the Park.

Mitchell believes the Shores made the right choice with Schulte, noting that he’s made sure officers keep up their training each year not only in police work, but also in fire and EMS.

“He’s probably the best director of public safety Grosse Pointe Shores has ever had, and I’m including myself,” said Mitchell, who spent 34 years working in the Shores. “He’s just done a fabulous job, in my opinion.”

Schulte formerly led the Grosse Pointe-Harper Woods Special Response Team, which is the local equivalent of a SWAT team. It’s one of the many important roles he played in his public safety career.

Jim Smith is a retired Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety lieutenant whose career overlapped with Schulte’s; they started within about three to six months of each other and rose up the ranks around the same time. While running the SRT, Schulte “commanded some pretty big fire scenes,” Smith said. As a supervisor, Schulte was “firm and fair,” which Smith said is “the sign of a strong boss.”

“He’s a great guy,” said Smith, who retired about 10 years ago. “He has a sense of humor, but he is serious. He’s very passionate. There’s a right way to do things.”

Smith remembered seeing two guys cleaning out the metal grates that collect water and leaves in the Park Public Safety garage one day. He initially thought it was two patrol officers, but upon getting closer, he saw that the people doing the work were Schulte — then the platoon commander — and an officer. Smith said the scene speaks to Schulte’s character and approach to the job.

“It’s not an example that’s dramatic … but on a platoon level, he led by example,” Smith said.

During a Dec. 15 Shores City Council meeting via Zoom, several officials and residents offered well wishes and praise for Schulte.

“I want to thank you for your exemplary service to the community for the last nine years,” Mayor Ted Kedzierski told Schulte.

City Councilman Matthew Seely acknowledged Schulte’s successful tenure, as well.

“We were so spoiled for so many years to have you running our public safety,” Seely said. “It’s been run like a Swiss watch. … I wish you nothing but happiness and health in your future journey.”

Longtime Shores resident Tom Melis echoed those sentiments.

“I just applaud his professionalism, his personality,” Melis said. “I wish the chief nothing but good health and happiness in his next endeavor.”

Schulte said he hopes to spend more time with his wife and family in retirement. He enjoys fishing and woodworking, and he “would love” to rebuild a sports car.

“What a tremendous way to finish my career,” said Schulte, who’s grateful to the officers and residents he’s gotten to know. “The officers I have worked with, and many I have hired, are some of the most professional and dedicated I have ever known. Especially the medics — they are so compassionate and caring.”

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