Janesville police help student gain life skills

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Marcia Nelesen
Friday, May 16, 2014

JANESVILLE--Kody Steinhoff started his job as squad car maintenance technician wearing uniforms he pieced together, handcuffs at his belt and collected patches sewn onto dark blue shirts.

On Thursday, Kody, 20, was promoted by the Janesville Police Department to honorary sergeant and presented an official shirt bearing his stitched name, a JPD badge, collar brass and a whistle.

Kody has attended the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped since he was young. He has some cognitive difficulties, as well. Kody will graduate this spring and return to his home in Sparta.

“We decided we didn't like him walking around in other people's police shirts when we thought he ought to be wearing ours,” Deputy Chief Dan Davis said.

“Kody will be rolling in style with his JPD uniform shirt.”

Kody's mother, Kay, who attended the commendation ceremony Thursday, said she's sure she'll be washing that shirt every day. Her son is so proud he works at the police department that he “tells everyone, everywhere.”

Kody is passionate about anything related to law enforcement, his school job  coach, Becky Heimerl, said. Her goal is to teach Kody life skills.

“I'm just a huge believer in trying to match my students with their passion,” Heimerl said. “We all like to like our work.”

Sgt. Steinhoff (2:00)

She asked Mike Rundle, community service officer, if Kody could do something at the police department.

They set him up washing squad cars in the afternoons.

But officers also took him under their wings.

Davis put Kody's photo on the employee board.

He took him to the sheriff's office awards ceremony in April, riding to the courthouse in the supervisor's black Tahoe. Kody is not known for sitting quietly for long periods.

“Kody did a great job.” Davis said. “We loaded him up with cookies and sent him home.”

Kody is happy just to sit in Lt. Tim Hiers's office and watch him work.

“It's all about relationships for Kody,” Heimerl said.

He likes to interact, tease and joke around.

“I think he enjoys harassing me, “ Davis agreed. “Because I seem to be receptive.”

Davis has been amazing in his support of Kody, Heimerl said.

Heimerl said Davis tells Kody that when he's wearing a uniform and coming to the police station, he has to act like an officer, that his behavior has to be fitting of being a member of the Janesville Police Department.

“I've been able to use that trump card a few times,” she said with a smile.

“It has been a great motivator.”

“One of the things Becky works very hard on with Kody is behavior appropriate to the environment,” Davis said.

Heimerl clued in officers on ways they could support and supplement those messages, he said.

Now that Kody is graduating, Davis has written Kody letters of recommendation, and he and Heimerl hope Kody can do something similar back home. He and Hiers have offered to be references.

“He's a kid who has some struggles and hurdles that a lot of kids don't,” Davis said.

“Some people just take things for granted.”

“I can tell you, when you think you're having a bad day, and you run into Kody out in the garage washing cars—You know what? This ain't such a bad day.”

Thursday, Kody was excited to receive his commendation from Chief David Moore and a pin recognizing his service from City Manager Mark Freitag. His parents and sisters, staff from the school and officers filled the room.

“There's not many people who get these,” Moore told Kody. “We really appreciate all you've done for us.”

The commendation reads in part:

“You have been dependable, diligent and determined. During the winter months, which were some of our coldest in recent history, you kept the squad cars free of salt and road grime. Clean squad cars send the message to the community that the Janesville Police Department is well organized, manages the duties we are entrusted to manage and is a professional organization.”

Kody said he would hang the commendation on his wall. He put on his shirt immediately.

“It fits me like a glove,” he said proudly.

“This story is a little bit about Kody and a lot about the police department and how wonderful they've been,” Heimerl said.

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