Anyone who has spent a career in law enforcement can tell stories all day. But in the case of Jim Arsanto, the tales pale in comparison to the support he’s received during more than 30 years of police work on the Plateau.
Arsanto is a local guy through-and-through, born and raised in Buckley and a graduate of White River High School. His only years of permanent residence away from Buckley saw him make the short uphill trek to Wilkeson.
Now, after three-plus decades of service to the community, Arsanto is Citizen Jim. He pulled on his police garb for the final time June 30, slipping into retirement. And, on his final day, Arsanto took time with the Courier-Herald to share a bit about an unintended career.
SHAVE AND A HAIRCUT
The year was 1987 and, by his own admission, Arsanto was “sitting at home doing nothing.” There were definitely no career goals in mind and police work wasn’t anywhere on his radar.
That changed with Arsanto was approached by members of both the Buckley and Wilkeson departments. In those days, Wilkeson had some autonomy, hiring its own officers even though they worked under the Buckley chief.
“I shaved my beard off, cut my hair and I was in the profession,” he recalls.
Arsanto began as a reserve officer, volunteering his time in both Buckley and Wilkeson. It wasn’t long before he was hired as a full-time officer and joined the Buckley force.
It appeared to be a wise move by both sides, as Arsanto was named the department’s Police Officer of the Year and earned the BPD’s Leadership Award three years in a row, from 1992 through 1994.
With accolades in his pocket and countless hours of additional training on his resumé, Arsanto began climbing the ranks. He was promoted to sergeant in 1997 and was bumped up to the rank of lieutenant in the summer of 2002 while serving under longtime Chief Buster McGehee.
It was just a few months later that Arsanto was named interim chief, taking the reins when McGehee retired. By February 2003, the appointment was made permanent.
Being a cop in your hometown presents special challenges and Arsanto has had his share. Along the way, an officer is bound to run into friends and family, some who are longtime acquaintances.
“I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened,” the chief said, recalling instances where he had to collar former classmates for various offenses. The only option, he said, is to keep some separation between personal relationships and professional duties.
While such encounters might have been a bit sticky, others have been downright dangerous. Even in a small, relatively quiet burg like Buckley, an officer is bound to run head-first into real trouble. Arsanto mentions the time he was shot at by a fleeing felon and recalls responding to a domestic dispute and being charged by a man wielding a butcher knife. And there was an unfortunate call that ended with Arsanto witnessing a death by suicide.
As he said, career officers can tell stories all day.
BUT NEARLY ALL MEMORIES ARE GOOD
While some individual events make their way to a career highlight reel, Arsanto said the biggest takeaway from his 32 years in uniform are the relationships built both with the community at large and within the ranks of the small-town department.
On the latter note, Arsanto notes with pride that during his tenure as chief, there was never a problem that couldn’t be remedied within the station walls.
He’s quick to preach the importance of teamwork and everyone pulling their weight. In the end, he said, “God blessed me with no weak links.”
He’s equally proud – and appreciative – of the support the department has received by those who are served. “The town is very pro-police and they support their officers,” he said.
NOW, ANOTHER CHAPTER
Arsanto always believed he would know when the time was right, when it was time to slide into retirement. The epiphany came last October: “I woke up and knew it was time to pass the baton,” he said.
While it’s not something he shares with too wide an audience, there are health issues playing a key role in his decision to step down at this time.
Arsanto, who recently turned 59, tells how he was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. For the better part of two years there were treatments every two weeks.
The situation is, in his words, “treatable, not curable.” Treatments were paused for a time, but they’re set to resume.
“My health has to come first right now,” Arsanto said.