Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady announced Tuesday he will retire March 13, ending a 45-year local law enforcement career.

In an interview Tuesday, the 65-year-old cited no reason in particular for his decision.

"I really appreciate the honor of serving this community for the past 45 years," said Casady, who has worked for eight mayors.

Mayor Chris Beutler in 2011 elevated Casady, then his police chief, to the newly re-instituted public safety director position overseeing the fire and police departments.

Lincoln's mayors had a public safety director for much of the 20th century until 1970, when the retiring director recommended the position be eliminated, according to newspaper records.

At the helm, Casady believes he helped foster coordination between two city agencies that account for about half of the city budget.

He's proud of his work to help shepherd the city's $36 million project to build new fire stations, a joint police and fire station and replace its outdated public safety radio system using a voter-approved quarter-cent sales tax.

The tax ended in October, and Casady believes Lincoln residents should see that as a fulfillment of city government's obligations.

Debby Brehm, who worked with Casady on a committee overseeing those projects, credited him for helping ensure they came in at or under budget, she said.

He was well-informed and well-versed on the needs and challenges of these projects, she said, calling him a "tremendous public servant."

"I think having someone who was able to kind of develop that vision and take it through all of its steps is critical to getting projects like this off the ground," Casady said.

In total, he's overseen construction of five fire stations and four police stations in his public service career, which began "more or less by accident," he said.

In 1974, the 20-year-old Casady started as an officer at the Lincoln Police Department in what he thought would be a two-year stint geared at helping him pay for his final years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Then, he'd go to law school.

But "life happened," he said, and he stayed on, being promoted to the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant before Lancaster County Sheriff Ron Tussing appointed him as his chief deputy in 1987.

Current Sheriff Terry Wagner won't soon forget how then-Chief Deputy Casady responded when Deputy Craig Dodge was shot and killed in Hickman just more than two months after Casady joined the sheriff's office. 

Casady handled the trauma the deputies and staff experienced in a way that kept the force moving forward but allowed them to grieve, Wagner said.

"They just made sure that we all stuck together and continued on with the mission," he said.

Casady succeeded Tussing as sheriff in 1991, after Tussing was tapped to lead the Nebraska State Patrol.

Three years later, then-Mayor Mike Johanns named Casady as Lincoln's police chief.

He led the department through May 2011, when he was appointed public safety director.

During his tenure as police chief, serious crimes dropped 22 percent as the city's population grew by 26 percent, according to department statistics.

Current Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said Casady set a standard for law enforcement leaders to follow.

The two spoke daily upon Bliemeister's appointment as chief in 2016.

Bliemeister praised the culture Casady created in the department, where data drives decision-making.

"I know that he contributed to the enhanced professionalism of the Lincoln Police Department, Lancaster County Sheriff's Office and law enforcement in the state of Nebraska," Bliemeister said.

In a statement, Beutler thanked Casady for his service and credited his leadership, integrity and comprehensive approach for a strengthened community and the city's low crime rate. 

"Tom has earned an excellent reputation among his peers across the country, and his expertise in using technology to improve public safety has made Lincoln a national leader in that area," Beutler said. "His positive impact on our city will continue to be felt for many years.”

Casady informed Beutler, who will leave office in May, of his retirement plans Tuesday. One of the first jobs for the new mayor will be to determine leadership of city departments and whether to continue the position of public safety director.

Casady was paid more than $173,000 last year and has been the city's highest-paid employee for several years.

Looking ahead, Casady said city leaders and taxpayers must recognize the investment it takes to maintain the level of safety enjoyed by Lincoln residents.

Staffing at the police and fire departments must keep pace with the city's growth in population and area, he added.

Over recent weeks, Casady had been with city attorneys in an Omaha federal courtroom for a trial over the city's handling of harassment and discrimination allegations within Lincoln Fire and Rescue.

Casady was criticized in that case for rejecting an internal investigation's recommendations to change the culture within the department.

A jury Tuesday decided the case in favor of the firefighter, alleging he faced retaliation for reporting the misconduct.

Casady said the lawsuit had no bearing on his decision to retire. And he has no immediate political aspirations.

He wants to spend more time with his wife, Tonja, his grandchildren, his bike and his golf clubs, he said.

"I’ll just have to see how far that takes me," Casady said. "I am feeling pretty good that it will take me through the end of May at least."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.


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Riley Johnson reports on local government in Lincoln.

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