MONTICELLO — When a person loves what they do for a living, it can be difficult to step away from it.
It can also be an emotional experience.
For former Monticello Police Chief Randy Soliday, it was both — and he summed up his career with two words.
“Honored. Blessed,” he said.
Soliday’s official last day in uniform was Jan. 14. He’s spent his entire career in public service, helping numerous people along the way. He’s also nabbed a few folks who have committed various crimes and traffic violations — but it was all in the public’s best interest.
Growing up, Soliday said he always wanted to be an ambulance driver.
“But I got pulled in (the police work) direction,” he said. “I knew some officers who were on (the force) back when I was getting out of high school. (Former Police Chief) Gene Clark hired me as a dispatcher in 1985.”
Soliday, who was born and raised in Monticello and graduated from Twin Lakes High School in 1982, worked as a radio operator/parking monitor for almost three years until latching on with the city’s Street Department as a laborer. He then went to work for the White County Sheriff’s Office as a corrections officer and jailer.
If that wasn’t enough, Soliday also was a deputy coroner, and a volunteer firefighter for the Monticello Fire Department, where he became an EMT and worked his way up to Advanced EMT. He’s also worked in a factory, in local retail stores and in his father’s body shop.
“I’ve been afforded the opportunities,” he said.
In 1992, Soliday restarted his law enforcement career with the city when he was hired as a patrolman for the Monticello Police Department.
“I’ve been here ever since,” he said.
Soliday worked is way through the ranks, from patrolman to assistant police chief in 1998.
“(Former Police Chief) John Raines asked me to become assistant chief in 1998,” he said.
Soliday became police chief in 2012 when former Mayor Ken Houston took office.
According to Lori Cheever, Mayor Cathy Gross’ assistant, Soliday entered the city’s law enforcement profession during Eugene Houston’s administration and retired at the end of Ken Houston’s (Eugene’s son) administration — an almost 27½-year span.
Soliday is well-known in Monticello and White County. His grandparents owned and operated the Spot Drive-In and his parents ran the Taco Shoppe at Indiana Beach for many years. Soliday’s brother, Greg Johnson, now owns the Taco Shoppe. Soliday said he “worked” for the Taco Shoppe as its “quality control specialist.”
“I pulled tacos out every now and then, and ate them to make sure they were good to go,” he said with a laugh.
Soliday said being the chief of a small city police department means having all hands on deck and jumping in to help.
“The way I look at it, I’m no better than (the other officers),” he said. “I still do the job. I can still be a policeman and enjoy being a policeman. I have no problem going out and taking calls, covering accidents … anything.”
Soliday was noticeably uncomfortable talking about himself and his career, instead opting to talk about the police department.
“We’re all doing the same job with the same passion — to help people,” he said. “It’s not about us, it’s about the community.”
Soliday said law enforcement is the least understood profession.
“Everybody watches ‘Cops,’ ‘CSI’ and ‘Live PD’ and they think they know what law enforcement is about,” he said. “When you get down to the nuts and bolts, people don’t know why we do what we do and how we do it, because they don’t know the legalities. We just can’t break down someone’s door when we want to. We have to have certain things in place before we can do what we do.”
Once a fan of the “CSI” television drama, Soliday said he quickly soured on it.
“When it first came on ... the theories they had were very good,” he said. “I stopped watching it when they took a fingerprint off a rock. That’s not possible.”
Because of those dramatized shows, Soliday said it has led to many misconceptions about what law enforcement can and can’t do.
“Everyone sees that show and they want us to take fingerprints and dust around,” he said. “People think we can take fingerprints off of anything. Lots of misconceptions.”
One thing that has changed law enforcement, Soliday said, is the evolution of technology.
“When I first started, we didn’t have computers. All reports were hand-written. We definitely didn’t have computers in the cars,” he said. “We didn’t have cell phones. We had our radios to communicate back and forth, but cell phones and computers were not around.”
Soliday said technology has its drawbacks and he’s thankful for having learned law enforcement practices in the days before cell phones and computers.
“Technology has made it a lot easier now, but then you get to where you are used to it and then it doesn’t work,” he said. “You have to get used to not having that stuff, that way you can go back to the basics if technology doesn’t work at the time.”
While Soliday said social media can be a useful tool for law enforcement, it has its share of headaches.
“We constantly get complaints of people posting things (about other people) online,” he said. “There’s not a whole lot we can do in instances like that. It can be a good investigative resource.”
Of the technological advances, Soliday said cell phones have been most beneficial to him.
“It’s a lot quicker to contact people than having to use a payphone,” he said. “When FaceTime first came out, we used that. If we had an officer on one end of town that had someone we had to identify, the officer could use FaceTime to get us a picture. That was before (high-quality) camera phones.”
In terms of community support, Soliday said he could not have chosen a better place to work.
“We’re shielded here, somewhat, because the community has very close ties with this department,” he said. “We’re blessed in this community to have such a backing. It’s just been great to work for the city.”
Soliday said he doesn’t have specific future plans, but he’s certain about one thing.
“Well, I have to go out and find another job,” he said. “I’m not going to stop working. I have to find another job. I have a few prospects out there, but I haven’t found the right niche yet.”