You can’t judge a book by it’s cover. That’s how the nomination for Officer Joseph Czeladko with the Columbia Police Department began.
“He is the most unique person you will ever meet,” his colleague shared. “He is from New York, covered in tattoos, and sounds like Batman when he talks. In this case, you can very much not judge a book by its cover.”
She was referring to Officer Czeladko’s caring and giving spirit, and the way that he goes beyond the call of duty to help others. Examples of his service range from small acts of kindness, like giving his shoes to individuals in need—including a stabbing victim who had no shoes and a man begging for food on the side of the road—to more magnified acts of kindness that include saving the lives of others.
A few months ago, Officer Czeladko received a call about a man sitting on the ledge of the top of a parking garage wanting to give up on life. “Joe did not hesitate and sprang into action,” the nomination described. “He was able to pull this young man off the ledge to safety.” Another time, Officer Czeladko and a fellow officer saved a woman from a burning car and yet another time, he helped render aid to a gunshot victim.
To Officer Czeladko, his work is a calling to serve others. Inspired to join the force, he drove down from New York with limited money in his account. “I packed up my car, lived in and out of my car for 6 months while I was at the academy. I lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”
Service has always been a part of his life. “My whole life, every job that I’ve ever had has been helping people in some regard. Whether it was managing a gym, working at a youth detention center, as a teacher’s aid, wrestling coach, it’s always been with people. It’s always been with a job that’s been about giving.”
He believes the key to success is connecting with others and treating all with respect. He understands people make mistakes. He recalls a time when he had to arrest a man in a domestic dispute in front of his children; they didn’t put him in handcuffs until he was in the back of the car. Reflecting on the incident, Officer Czeladko shared, “Respect goes a long way. I’m a big believer in that. When I worked in the school, it’s the same way. For the most part, you treat someone with respect and integrity, you do the same thing. I’m not going to treat them any different just because of something they did. I do know that people make mistakes.”
When asked what he has learned about the community through his work, he shared, “Everyone is the same no matter what. Doesn’t matter your race, if you’re male or female, or your religion. It comes down to the same thing. People are cut from the same cloth.”
That appreciation for others goes a long way and makes us proud to recognize him as a finalist for this year’s Officer Gregory Alia Award!
Serve & Connect was founded by Kassy Alia in memory of her husband, Greg Alia, who was killed in the line of duty on September 30th, 2015. This prestigious annual award is named in his honor and recognizes an outstanding officer who demonstrates a commitment to serve his/her community with respect and compassion; one who goes above the call of duty to ensure that members of the community are protected, cared for, and feel valued; one who treats all members of the community as equal and who employed their role with thoughtfulness and tact; and who through everyday interactions builds a safer community for all. The award is presented at our annual event, the Knight of Honor Gala, which will be held on September 28, 2018 in Columbia, SC.