Columbus native Brad Wangler can still vividly recall one frosty winter night as a boy in the 1970s when his mother called his Dad at the Platte County Sheriff’s Office with an urgent request.
“We’re in the middle of a snowstorm happening and my Mom called the sheriff’s office after realizing we were out of milk and asked them to tell my Dad to bring milk back to the house when he got off duty. She said within an hour she had seven gallons of milk on the front steps,” Wangler recalled, with a laugh. “That’s the camaraderie we (law enforcement officers) share …”
Wangler was hooked. That is one of those experiences that inspired the 1993 Scotus Central Catholic High School alumnus to ultimately follow in his father and older brother’s footsteps of pursuing a rich career in law enforcement. Those two’s careers included time with CPD, though Brad Wangler’s has spanned 25 years representing the blue in Columbus.
Wangler has been a patrol officer, field training officer, a Citizen’s Police Academy coordinator, drug recognition expert active shooter response trainer, a firearms instructor and sergeant.
(Retired Columbus Police Department Sgt. Brad Wangler shows off his celebratory cake during a retirement gathering in his honor at CPD.)
“I have loved it,” Wangler said on Oct. 19 from within CPD’s training room. “I never really saw myself doing much more because it was a family tradition. It just made sense.”
But on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, Wangler officially retired from duty to pursue a new opportunity in corporate security for Nebraska Public Power District.
“This place is and always has been family,” Wangler said. “To walk away from it now, especially in the hour of need when manpower is an issue in law enforcement, it’s a difficult choice.”
Admittedly, Wangler never thought he would get to 25 years at CPD. He had other plans when he joined the local force on Aug. 11, 1998.
“My intent at that point was to stay three or four years and move to a larger agency,” he said.
But then, life happened. Wangler and his wife, Nicole, had kids. He was raising his family in Columbus and he loved his community. The retired police sergeant has long been an active community member in various capacities, including with the Boy Scouts, GodTeens, Teammates Mentoring Program and Big Pals-Little Pals of Greater Columbus, among many others.
There was also the strong bond he created with fellow law enforcement officials throughout the years. Those men and women who have worked with him at the Columbus Police Department aren’t just coworkers – they’re his brothers and sisters.
(Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley, back left, chats with retired Columbus Police Sgt. Brad Wangler and others during the latter's retirement gathering on Oct. 19 at CPD.)
“This job cannot be done without the help of others. You can’t do this job by yourself and you can’t do life by yourself,” said Wangler, who also retired after 20 years of service in the U.S. Army National Guard that included two deployments (Kosovo and Iraq). “My successes are because of those people to my left and to my right – my family, my fellow officers, my supervisors …”
That was arguably never more on display in Wangler’s career or life than in June 2018, when he was shot in the line of duty while serving a search warrant in town. Wangler, who has fully recovered, remains grateful for all of the support his family received when that happened.
“The biggest thing I take away from that is my success that day is because of those people who taught me, those people who trained me and those individuals who were on my left and my right. I often say that I would storm the gates of Hell with a bucket of water with these guys and that day was hell,” Wangler affirmed.
“Obviously, it’s one of those things that defines my career. I can’t walk away from it; it is what it is. People still recognize me as the officer involved in a shooting.”
He may be recognized for that, but Wangler always strived to wear the badge with great honor and conduct himself as a law enforcement officer like his late father, Charlie, taught him to be. His father had a tremendous influence on him, as he served in the U.S. Navy before a career in law enforcement with CPD and the Platte County Sheriff’s Office.
“Treating everyone with respect and equally,” he said of what he learned from his late father of what it means to be a great officer.
Wangler said he is well aware of some of the national narrative that has taken place in recent years that suggest all law enforcement is bad, but he is proud of the relationship CPD and other area law enforcement agencies seem to have with the public. That national narrative is not indicative of Columbus and Platte County, he noted.
“I honestly believe the Columbus Police Department is fair on every level when we deal with the public,” he said, noting he has had people he’s brought into jail thank him for his service and keeping them safe. “The public may not always like what they hear from us, but I honestly believe they know we are fair.”
On Oct. 19, CPD hosted a retirement gathering for Wangler to celebrate his career that saw various members of the department and others within the City of Columbus, as well as the community, come out to wish him well. There was cake, coffee and plenty of laughs throughout the afternoon as they all reminisced on Wangler’s tenure with CPD.
“Brad has been a great representative for the Columbus Police Department. He’s been a fantastic person to work with all around,” CPD Capt. Doug Molczyk said, noting he was Wangler’s direct supervisor years ago when he himself was a sergeant and the latter was an officer. “Over his career he has had nothing but the goodness of the people he serves in mind … He has been a tremendous asset to the Columbus Police Department … and he’s a tremendous friend.”
CPD Chief Charles Sherer has known the Wangler family for years, noting he knew Wangler’s father and brother through their military service before he met his now-retired sergeant. Sherer called the Wangler family “pillars of the community,” mentioning Brad Wangler’s constant involvement in various community activities and organizations.
“He’s a very reputable officer,” Sherer said. “He’s very community-minded.”
The police chief cited the June 2018 incident in which Wangler was shot as an example of his tenacity.
(Some of Retired Columbus Police Department Sgt. Brad Wangler's awards he has earned throughout the years.)
“The way he handled himself during that and how he survived that … it really drew a great deal of respect from me,” Sherer said. “He was shot in the arm and had to continue to fight … Not considering the shooting, Sgt. Wangler’s institutional and community knowledge will be missed. He brings a lot to the job, from his patrol/police duties to his instruction and tutelage of his fellow officers and department personnel. His presence will be missed and we wish him the best in his new endeavors.”
Columbus Mayor Jim Bulkley has known Wangler essentially his entire life, noting how he knew his late father and has been friendly with his mother, brother and the sergeant himself throughout the years. The mayor acknowledged it was bittersweet to see Wangler retire, but that he’s happy for him.
“He’s been such an excellent example of a police officer,” Bulkley said. “A local resident who stayed home and served … When I heard he was retiring, there was that feeling of ‘oh golly, we’re losing a good one.' But then you take a deep breath and thank him for what he has given us through the years. He’s still going to be here and part of the community."
Wangler will no longer be wearing the CPD badge, but he’ll always support local law enforcement and consider them family.
“Every time I see an officer, or I see the lights or hear the sirens, I will continue to say a small prayer. Not just for where they’re going and what they’re doing, but for those they’re going to serve because every call you don’t know what you’re walking into. I don’t know if the public truly understands the things officers go through …,” he said. “Every call could be good, but it could be bad.”
Although he had aspirations in his younger days to pursue a career in law enforcement in bigger cities, he has no regrets. He’s appreciative of his family and those who have become family through law enforcement. Columbus is home.
“This city has the ability to grab hold of you and all of sudden three years turn into 10 and 10 turns into 20 and here we are,” he said, with a smile. “Looking back on 25 years, I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It’s not a friendship – this is family.”
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