John Fedack: My Days As A DeKalb County Police Officer
John is a native of Atlanta, GA. His interest in police work began at a very early age. His father was a physician in Clayton County near Atlanta. Dr. Fedack was the county physician so if a county deputy or even county prisoner was hurt or sick he would treat them. His father had a deep respect for law enforcement officers yet he treated the prisoners fairly and with compassion.
So after hearing stories about the deputies and tales from WW11 when his father was a doctor in the U. S. Navy John understandably wanted to try law enforcement as a career. After his education at Woodward Academy (previously a boy’s military school) and the University of Georgia, John starting working at the university police at Georgia State University. He quickly rose to the ranks of Detective Sergeant and stayed there for three years. But, he always wanted to work at DeKalb County Police.
Nationally recognized for their training and equipment, DeKalb County was in the vanguard of departments. Joining the department as a uniform patrol officer, John got an incredible education on surviving on the street as a cop. This was the late 1970’s and today we recognize this was one of the most violent and dangerous times to be a police officer. In the four years John was with DeKalb County four officers were killed in the line of duty. During his tenure, John worked uniform patrol and stakeout teams. He received many letters of commendation from the Director of Public Safety for bravery and exceptional police work. But, after the tragic shooting of a good friend John decided to leave the department. Coincidently, the night of the shooting, John had taken the night off. The officer who was shot was in John’s usually assigned territory.
After leaving police work, he accepted a position with Crum & Forster, a Xerox company. John was trained and began selling an accounting software package and this was his foray into technology. In the 1990’s and until 2006 John was employed in the legal software arena. In November 2006, he left software to devote fulltime to writing and managing the Liz Chandler marketing effort.
Liz Chandler, the protagonist in this series is a compilation of female’s officers that John knew and worked with for many years. ‘Protecting Sharks’ is a fictional account with many true life situations weaved into the story. John is currently on a sequel and has four additional stories in the series in the works.
John explains where he got the idea for the Liz Chandler character. ‘The first night of roll call at DeKalb County Police in 1976 I looked around and noticed something very striking. I was only 5’8″ and maybe 150 lbs. Almost all of the other patrolman were at least six feet and built like football players. Then I noticed three or four female officers and I thought to myself if I feel like a fish out of water what could they possibly be thinking. But, is it not an exaggeration that all of the women were dedicated and very brave. They had to be because they were working from a disadvantage being in a male dominated world. Many of the females became good friends and sometimes my most trusted partners.”
As far as why did John begin writing, there is a scene in the first chapter where a sadist attacks a helpless shark. John actually witnessed that real-life incident on St. Simon’s pier and that savagery was burned into his memory. A few years later, he thought why not write a book about a female officer who sees the same sight but she does something about it and the Liz Chandler series was born.
My days as a DeKalb County Police Officer 1976-1981
The date was August 2, 1976 and at 4:00 in the afternoon I was standing in the roll call room and started my first shift as a rookie cop. I looked around. There were 50-60 officers lined up for inspection. As an aside, there were only 4-5 female officers. These days some departments have 40% female officers. Please see my website for more thoughts on female officers. www.protectingsharks.com
Starting that evening I rode for 8 weeks with a Patrol Training Officer before I entered the 18 week DeKalb Police Academy. I wanted a job that would be different and even exciting at times. Well, like they say, I got the bonus plan. But those stories can be told another day. Mr. Lee Lofland asked me to write about the equipment that we carried in the 1970’s.
Take a close look at the car. It was heavy and fast. There is a blue spoiler on the hood – not for decoration, but because the engines ran so hot!
The Motorola radio signal bounced off repeater towers in the county and every time the signal hit the tower the radio made a beep-beep-beep sound. After awhile you completely tuned it out. A very few of the cars had computer terminals. Now almost every car has a terminal and/or laptop computer to communicate with and to write your reports on.
The first two years we did not carry walkie-talkies. When you got away from your car, you were unable to communicate. Many, many nights everyone held their breath until an officer came back on the radio. Today the officers have walkie-talkies, cell phones and some carry recorders on their belts to record what happens on the street.
For the entire time with DeKalb I carried a 6 shot service revolver; a Colt .357 magnum Trooper with six additional cartridges in an ammo holder.
Also, I carried a hand cuff case, a ring for my night stick and that was it. My pistol holster only had a small leather strap to secure the pistol. By today standards this was suicide. In 1980 one officer was killed, another shot and severely wounded when a perpetrator grabbed one of their guns and shot them both. That could have been me. I was on vacation that night and that was my patrol beat. Very quickly, I brought a black jack for my back pocket. I wore a back up pistol and carried as much ammo for my service revolver as I could get away with.
My brother-in-law is a Marshall for Fulton County and I looked at his duty belt last week. His service pistol is a Glock model 23 that holds 16 cartridges and he carries two extra magazines for a total of 46 shots!
He also carries a Taser (a wonderful way to subdue someone without deadly force), a walkie-talkie, pouch for rubber gloves, handcuff case, an ASP baton, a small but very powerful flashlight and pepper spray. Oh yeah, he wears a bullet proof vest. We were strongly discouraged from wearing them as it would give us a Superman complex and we might act in a stupid or dangerous manner. (?)
DeKalb ran three ten hour shifts. The evening shift and Task Force (graveyard) shift overlapped for 4 hours.
Day Shift 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Evening 4:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Task Force 10:00 p.m. – 8:00 a.m.
After 2:00 a.m. there were usually 18-20 cars to cover 270 square miles. It is no exaggeration that some nights your nearest back up was 30-40 miles away. You handled the situation or it handled you.
Which brings me to what else we carried in the cars for officer protection. Every patrol car had an Ithaca 12 gauge shotgun in the trunk. I was given a small box of 5 buckshot rounds. I carried two boxes of shotgun shells next to the shotgun. In the days before civil liability was such an issue a lot of officers bought their own rifles. I saw AR 15’s, Ruger Mini 14’s, Eagle .45 (looks like a Thompson) and a few carried Winchester 30-30 deer rifles. A friend on mine carried an H & K assault rifle in .308. Almost everyone gave him a hard time until we had a barricade situation and he almost single handedly drove the bad guy out of the house with the furious barrage of bullets from his H & K assault rifle.
I was very proud to be DeKalb Police Officer.
At the time we had the best equipment and undoubtedly the best training. The FBI reports the late 1970’s was perhaps the most dangerous times for law enforcement officers in American history. Drugs were becoming a major problem, the criminals did not fear the police like in earlier times and the criminals were beginning to carry automatic pistols. That meant sometimes you were grossly outgunned.
Even after all the terrible things I witnessed and losing three fellow officers while I was there I am still glad I was a cop. I have close friends who are still there or recently retired. And whenever I see a patrol car with someone pulled over I slow down to make sure everything is OK. I am older, heavier and slower but I know I will get out of my car and try to assist that officer if they need help. It is either in your blood or it never will be.
It was really interesting reading this web site and the notes sent. I was hired in July 1973. I was the first woman hired to work out in the county (Emory Police were DKPD and there was a woman working on campus). I graduated from the second Dekalb County Academy class and worked evening watch for almost 2 years. I then worked Special Operations for a time until I was assigned to the Youth Squad, then Narcotics and finally Homicide. I left in 1978 when I got married (my husband was not in law enforcement). I enjoyed my 5 years as a Dekalb County Officer/Investigator, but I have never regreted leaving to have a family. After 32 years, I still listen carefully whenever I hear anything about DKPD or an officer. I know everyone I knew has to have retired by now, but I still care.
I HAD A 1977 PLYMOUTH FURY FROM DEKALB CO WITH THE HOOD SCOOP.HAD A 400 ENGINE IN TI.WISH I HAD KEPT IT.
I noticed Lt. mention being Grady Bound. I remember those days.
John, I worked for the DeKalb County Police from 1987-1996. I have alot of fond memories from working Evening Shift, task Force and Morning Watch at South Precinct. Those were the days. Ive heard DKPD has made some changes, some good, some bad.
Hello John, I came across your web site by accident looking for an old friend from Woodward named John Hayes. He was a year older than I and would have gradurated in ’71. When I saw your site and photo……..you have to be the John Fedack I knew some 42 years ago. A yellow 442 right? Fellow classmates would have been Joe Nix, Reggie Warren, Chuck Berry, Larry Demarcus. Anyway if you are or are not my old aquantaince………best to you….nothing better than law enforcement.
Harry Truitt (Truitt, H.S.)
I still am holding the fort down, working the grave yard shift in dekalb. I started after you were gone, but want to tell you, “we” the new officers lived off the reputation you veterans built a long time. Having grown up in Dekalb, I knew not to cause any trouble or you would be “Grady Bound” not that I condone violence. It did make our job easier because of the respect we received. Sad to say that is all but gone. As I wind down my career I hope to pass along the baton to the new officers, and never let a chance go by to talk about the veterans that were here before us and gave the ultimate sacrifice. May God bless you my brother, and remember it is a Thin Blue line.
I stumbled upon you site, while searching for pictures of police vehicles, that had hood scoops, or cowl induction. Go figure! lol!
Indeed, Dekalb did run Mopars for a while, that had functional cool air induction, and in turn did help keep engine temps down. I still think the idea to do so, came from someone watching “Smokey & The Bandit” too many times. Very cool none-the-less. I just wish I could find more pictures of those cars!
Interesting notes on your issued sidearm. The .357 Colts served Dekalb well, but IIRC, were deemed “politically incorrect”, due to the “Magnum” status. It was replaced by the Smith & Wesson model 25-5; a revolver in caliber .45 Colt—yep—the same caliber Marshal Dillon carried on “Gunsmoke.” Shortly after however, the high-capacity 9mm became all the rage, and Dekalb County adopted the Beretta. About that time, Glock was introduced to the market, and captured many departments. Chamblee P.D. was one of the very first. I still own and carry, one of the Glock 17’s that they used for evaluation.
In memory of my friend:
Detective Dennis C. Stepnowski DCPD
What a great idea. I will watch for it.
I remember reading a book in college – pure fiction about England after the War but the Nazis won. I love ‘what-if’s’.
My first Patrol Training Officer told me when he was a rookie, the radio was one way. It could only receive. The radio dispatcher gave the call three times and you were reprimanded if you misssed a call.
Now, it it like Dick Tracy with wrist radio, almost.
God bless you for helping the police. I bet you have heard some stories.
My first book ‘Protecting Sharks’ is set in Atlanta and based on a female detective Liz Chandler. She is involved in a shooting (very early in the book) and loses her friend and mentor. She leaves the Atlanta PD and then the stories takes off.
Many people who have read it call it a great beach read and I take that as a compliment. I want to offer some escape for my readers. Nothing more.
I have 5 more complete stories outlined in the Liz Chandler series.
Some sad, some exciting and hopefully all are realisitic and fun.
Please wish me luck.
You might want to see my website –
Good luck with your WIP. If there is anyway I can help just ask. I would love to hear a little about your story and would be honored to give my input.
Stay after it.
I am sorry we never met also. DeKalb was and is a very nice place. I worked Lithonia a few times and it was totally rural. Horse farms and tractors driving down the road.
I made good friends there. You saw DeKalb at a wonderful time.
Hope we meet someday.
DeKalb had a section we called ‘Little Viet Nam’ and we were forbidden to go in unless we had 2-3 other cars. They would literally shoot at you and it always turned into a street fight.
Now that section is called ‘East Lake’ and a famous golf club has been restored, the housing projects town down and it is totally restored.
What a difference 25 years makes.
Ask most people and they say you have a .357 magnum revolver and a radio what are you worried about?
Well, just let them pull up to a ‘Trouble unknown’ call at 4:00 a.m. and six drunks are in street fighting and they couldn’t care less about about your little gun – well police work is misunderstood.
Sounds like you have plenty of stories of your own. Most cops do.
All my best,
Always fun to read about the good ol’ days. When I first started, we had radios in the cars and “handy talkies” on our belts. Guys told stories about how they had to watch for the light on the water tower, then race to a phone to call dispatch and find out what the call was. How modern the radios must seem!
Don’t suppose you caught the BBC broadcast of LIFE ON MARS ? A fantastic series that is being brought to US TV in a made for the US market this October. Cop working today suddenly finds himself in 1970s, with his 21st century knowledge, but no way to put it in play, because he is back in time, and everyone thinks he’s nuts when he spouts things like civil rights and DNA and crime scene investigation. If the American version is half as good as the BBC version, this should be a great series?!
Very interesting post, John. I was a police secretary for ten years and I loved to hear the older guys talk about the “good old days.” Some of them had some great stories.
Can you tell us more about your books? What made you decide to use a female protagonist?
Hi Guys. John should be by soon to respond to your comments and questions.
Thanks for the informative post. A lot has changed in the past few decades. My WIP is set in 1982, and your perspective is helpful.
Thanks for blogging John – you made me a bit homesick – I moved to DeKalb County around 70, from Chicago, and lived there the next 30 years.
You worked with some of the nicest guys and gals. I was so impressed with the way most of them matched their energy to the reality of the situation that I have made sure my fictional cops do the same thing.
Sorry we never met, and best wishes with your Liz Chandler series.
Sounds like scary times, John and Lee. I remember doing a ride-along in 1972. I was in South St. Louis County and we got a call to go to a community I had never heard of and I lived only 10 miles away. I remember the cop I was riding with was nervous about having me along. He called for backup and explained that Meacham Park was a little island of dangerous crime less than a mile from one of the nicest communities in St. Louis. He said they tried to never enter the area alone.
I know he had my adrenaline pumping. We waited for another car and the two of them answered a domestic dispute. There was a lot of shouting and name calling, but the dispute wound up being settled without a fight.
I was only a teenager at the time, but to this day, I remember the nervousness of those policemen. It left an impression.
Good blog, John.
John – Your post brings back memories. I remember many nights of patrolling an entire county on the graveyard shift, alone. In those days, I carried a .357 Ruger (same holster with the thin leather strap), and like you, the only accessories I carried were a nightstick, handcuffs, and one of those leather-covered blackjacks with the flexible shaft for an added snap when it hit its mark.
We didn’t have portable radios, either. To add to the danger, there were several areas in the county where our radio signals couldn’t reach the tower, so we were basically on our own. We didn’t even have cages in the cars, so many times after making an arrest I’d have to struggle with the prisoner while driving him to jail.