After working for 28 years in the Salt River Police Department, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member Wilfred Charlie retired in February.
“My retirement may be a new direction in my life,” explained Charlie. “I’m still going to be here and available to help Community members in any way. I thank the people of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community for allowing me to serve you for the last 28 years.”
Charlie began working as a police dispatcher at age 17, and after six months of taking 911 calls he told the chief of police he wanted to be a police officer. He remembers the day the chief promoted him.
“He reached into a drawer and handed me a police officer’s badge, [then] opened a closet and grabbed a revolver and some leather gear. He told me I could see the on-duty sergeant for a ticket book and I needed to report at 0600 hours,” Charlie recalled.
“I arrived the next morning around 0500 and got what I needed. Back then we had two patrol cars, so I waited until the graveyard officer gave up his car. I had no training or academy, but I had a badge and a gun and went out into the world of law enforcement.”
Charlie worked as an officer for a year before attending the Central Arizona Regional Law Officers Training Academy in 1977; he went to training during the week and worked as an officer on the weekends.
In 1983, Charlie left the SRPD and retuned in 1992; he returned to Salt River and went to the Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy.
As a patrol officer for his entire 28-year career, Charlie has served under six police chiefs and investigated hundreds of criminal cases.
“I have saved the lives of eight people; two were children that had stopped breathing, and I revived them,” said Charlie. “I have investigated several major crimes and made many arrests of bad guys. I’ve seen numerous accidental deaths, homicides, suicides and traffic accidents, and I have been [involved] in numerous incidents where I was placed in life-or-death situations. During one incident I got shot at.”
Over the years, many fellow SRPD officers have come and gone, but Charlie has stayed and become well known in the Community.
“I have lost several close friends in law enforcement, and I can still picture them in my mind clearly to this day. I have trained many officers over the years, and I’m proud to say some are still working for this department,” said Charlie. “I enjoyed my job, and during my career I have met a lot of Community members and knew their children. I would ask [the children] who their parents were, and when they told me I would know who they were by their parent, but now I ask who their grandparents are,” he said.
“I’m a people person and love to visit with people and exchange stories. From time to time, I play pranks on my friends and coworkers and love to laugh with them.”
Charlie loves to tell stories of all of his police experiences and hopes someday to write a book. He only hopes people will actually believe all the experiences he has had—everything from delivering a baby in the police department parking lot to pushing organs back inside the abdominal cavity of a stabbing victim to the joyful experience of holding a baby bald eagle.
“I tell new officers the reason I come to work is knowing I will experience something new each and every day. I have tried to follow the legacy of some of my relatives, such as my late uncle Frank Lee Shaw, who was a police officer for Salt River back in the ’60s. And the late Andy Stepp, who was a police officer here back even further and was recognized by his silver-tip boots. He was my grandfather, the late Paul Stepp Shaw’s brother. My other grandfather, the late Navajo Charlie, was a policeman for the Navajo Nation and rode horseback patrolling the land of the Navajo. Unfortunately I never met him, but I was told stories about him,” said Charlie.
“I once heard a tribal leader tell a high school graduating class that if they ever find a job they truly love, they will never have to work another day in their lives. I believe that as being a fact, and it has happened to me.”
Charlie has served the SRPD and the Community in numerous capacities. In addition to a patrol officer, he has been a field training officer, Explorer Post advisor, firearms instructor and a member of the Special Operations Unit Tactical Team. He was serving as a ranger until September 1999, when he was promoted to the rank of sergeant. He served as patrol sergeant and ranger sergeant until being promoted to the rank of lieutenant in December 2004.
Charlie played a vital role in the development of the SRPD’s Ranger Unit program, which protects the Community’s natural resources. In that capacity he wrote several columns for Au-Authm Action News on the Verde Preserve and how important the water, environment and animal life are to the Community’s culture, history and traditions.
During his career, Charlie received numerous awards, including Officer of the Year (1993), Meritorious Service and Sworn Supervisor of the Year (2003). He is the SRPD’s only five-time recipient of the Lifesaving Award.
Assistant Chief of Police Karl Auerbach honored Lt. Charlie and thanked him for his dedication and service. “As you can well imagine, over a 20-year-plus career at SRPD, Lt. Charlie is well known by almost everybody in the Community, plus many neighboring police departments. They know him as a knowledge resource, skilled officer and rapid back-up,” said Auerbach. “We thank him for his loyal and dedicated service to the SRPD and SRPMIC and wish him the very best.
“Thank you to Mrs. Charlie and the entire Charlie family for sharing Lt. Charlie with us all these years,” he added. “Lt. Charlie, your dedicated commitment, loyalty and service to our Community has made the Salt River Indian Community a safer place. May your teaching skills continue to positively influence young minds for generations. Enjoy the hunting and fishing, and know that Lincoln 53 will be missed.”
Career Highlights Include
• Guided tour of the Red Mountain Preserve to former State of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.
• Work with the Eagle Watchers and holding a Baby Eagle that was being banded
• He was point of contact for communication and coordination with neighboring Police Departments
• Arizona Department of Agriculture who would always call upon Lt. Charlie for cactus and livestock assistance.
• Charlie would also be called upon for identifying animal tracks (the mountain lion case).
• He was McGruff and Santa Charlie.