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One-of-a-kind officer Karl Odenthal retires from Aiken Public Safety

September 23, 2018

One positive aspect the City of Aiken has over many other places is a well-respected police force working hand-in-hand with the community to make it a place many like to call home.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety has worked hard to keep residents safe over the years, and the department’s great works can be attributed to the officers and firefighters working to make a difference.

One of those officers just turned in his badge this month after 28 years of service with the force.

Lt. Karl Odenthal, 52, one of the agency’s best, brightest and most well-known officers, officially retired Sept. 14.

Odenthal, who many consider to be a household name in Aiken, sat down with Aiken Standard to discuss his long career in law enforcement and what his future holds.

“I am truly grateful for the amazing career I’ve had at Aiken Public Safety,” Odenthal said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better job. It is one of the best decisions I ever made in my life.”

His career started with Public Safety in 1990 after former Chief J. Carrol Busbee decided to give him a chance. During his first few years, Odenthal managed to work his way up to the position of lieutenant with the agency before deciding to try a different route working security at the Savannah River Site. That job didn’t last long.

″(SRS security) just wasn’t for me,” he said. “The pace was so much slower than what I was used to, and I ended up deciding to come back (to Public Safety). However, I had to start from the bottom again and work my way back up. There were guys who I trained that were now over me.”

After a few years, Odenthal managed to work his way back up to lieutenant and there he remained for the rest of his career with Public Safety.

Many people may not realize that Aiken Public Safety is unique from other law enforcement agencies because Public Safety officers are required to be both a police officer and a firefighter.

Yet, this is an aspect to the job Odenthal found to be exhilarating.

“That really gave the agency an element of excitement – it was more than I bargained for, it was really something that was an added bonus,” he said. “To be able to do both (police and fire) and experience something where most people are running from a burning building and you’re going toward it. Same with law enforcement, you’re in a position to really help people, and, really, that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know how or what profession I was going to do it in, but I knew I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and my own.”

Aiken Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco said doing this type of work isn’t for everyone, and it truly takes a special person who is called to do it – like Karl Odenthal.

However, Odenthal said he lucked out because being a police officer and firefighter is something that ran in his family.

“I have an older brother who is a retired assistant (police) chief out in Spokane, Washington – another brother who is an Illinois state trooper and another who is an MP in the Army,” he said. “This is just something that just sort of ran in my blood. It was natural calling for me. Plus, my grandfather was in the fire service. So, coming to Aiken Public Safety melded both those worlds together.”

Nearly three decades as a police officer and firefighter gave Odenthal numerous memories to take with him into his retirement, but he said there’s really only a few things he’s truly going to miss.

“I’ve had so many great memories,” Odenthal laughed. “There will always be those calls that stick out in your mind, but I think the big thing for me was just the relationships that I developed with people in the neighborhoods. My early days in the Smith-Hazel neighborhood and playing basketball with the people outside is something I’ll always remember. The community was so accepting and just accepted me for who I was. I just happened to be an officer who liked working and playing in the same community. That’s the kinds of things I remember.”

Odenthal also said he really enjoyed being a resource for people in the community who came to him needing help. He liked the feeling of accomplishment he felt helping those people find the answers they needed.

“If someone needed something, I would always try to help them find what they need,” he said. “I also loved interacting with business owners in downtown Aiken.”

While the community is losing an officer, Odenthal is not done helping local residents just yet. Retiring from Aiken Public Safety is just the first step as he moves into his new role as a City of Aiken code enforcer.

He will now get the chance to work with former Aiken Public Safety employees Mike Jordan and Teddy Umstead, who are currently code enforcers for the city.

“These guys are old friends, and this is just a good opportunity to continue neighborhood work,” Odenthal said. “I will still get to make things better for the citizens of Aiken – just on a different level. I really planned on working in law enforcement longer, but this was just too good of an opportunity to pass up on. It might not be there in another five years.”

Having an influence on so many people’s lives in Aiken has allowed Odenthal to make a big impact, which he will continue to do in his new career.

“I’m going to keep going until I just can’t go anymore,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. I think (being a code enforcer) is going to be a great opportunity to continue that joy of working with the City of Aiken. I love the City of Aiken. I love the citizens of it. It has just been a pleasure to work for. I can’t say every minute has been perfect, but I can say, in all honesty, that I have enjoyed my time. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Odenthal was honored for all his work Friday afternoon during a celebration held at Public Safety headquarters on Laurens Street.

“While no officer is irreplaceable – it’s going to be tough trying to fill (Odenthal’s) shoes,” Barranco said at the ceremony. “We all wish him well in his new career and I appreciate all the fantastic work he has done for this department during his time here.”

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