Photo: Metropolitan Investigations Division Chief Michael Dubis recently retired from the Milwaukee police force, where he spent most of his time in the homicide department. Dubis, now security director for Marquette University High School, will help develop emergency response plans.
Not long after he joined the Milwaukee Police Department in 1978, Michael Dubis learned an important lesson: If the chief calls, for heaven's sake don't put him on hold. Especially if that chief was the legendary Harold Breier, who ate nails for breakfast.
"I got a good talking to," Dubis said.
Now, 34 years later, I sat down with Dubis at his kitchen table. Leftover cake from his retirement party Saturday occupied one lonely corner of a large box sitting there. Vicki, his wife of 32 years, stood nearby and listened.
"I loved being a cop," he said. Saying that in past tense will take some getting used to, especially for a guy who is only 53 years old.
Dubis worked for a decade as a uniformed officer before becoming a detective in 1989 and joining the homicide unit. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2001 and captain in 2006, and most recently was in charge of the Metropolitan Investigations Division that handles murder cases, bank heists and other major robberies.
Suddenly, the stream of homicides in Milwaukee is someone else's problem.
"As long as they're not in the area of 35th and Wisconsin. As long as they stay away from Marquette High School," he said.
This week Dubis started a new job as full-time security director at Marquette. He will supervise eight security officers and help develop emergency plans.
Dubis said he's the last remaining detective who responded to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment the night he was arrested in July 1991. Police discovered a human head in the refrigerator and photos of other body parts.
"At that point we started calling the bosses and saying it's for real," Dubis said.
When we got talking about memorable cases, Dahmer was not the first mentioned by Dubis. The name burned into his memory is Kurt Lagoo, an 18-month-old boy tortured, sexually assaulted and killed by his mother's boyfriend in 1990.
"My youngest son was about the same age as Kurt. That bothered me a lot," Dubis said.
None of his three sons plans to extend the Dubis police dynasty. Dubis' father, Ray, was an officer in Milwaukee for 37 years. And Michael Dubis' sister, Karen, is a detective lieutenant for the department. A news article in 1991 said they were believed to be the first brother and sister detectives in MPD history.
Most of Michael Dubis' years on the force were spent on the night shift. I asked if anyone ever took a shot at him.
"Once, and it's not a great story," he replied. It was New Year's morning about 1987, and a lady refused to turn her music down. She fired shots at neighbors who complained. Dubis was lying on the floor when he knocked on her apartment door.
"I yelled, 'Police!' and she fired two more shots right through her door. Had I been standing there, like they teach you not to, there would have been two right here," he said, pointing to his chest.
In all his years of police work, Dubis never once fired his gun.
"I had opportunities. I had people with guns in their hands, people who wouldn't drop guns in their hands, and people who pretended to have guns," he said. That includes a guy who aimed a long barrel at him and shouted, "Bang!" The supposed gun was actually a weight bar, and that guy is lucky he's not dead.
There were plenty of days when Dubis was called away from his kids' soccer games, concerts and scout meetings to rush to a crime scene. It came with the job.
Dubis brightened when I asked him how he kept his faith in human nature in the midst of so much criminal brutality and sadness. Family served that role, along with his involvement in coaching soccer and basketball and for many years leading Boy Scout troops.
He also pointed to successes in Milwaukee County drug treatment court, an option offered to addicts who hit bottom. Until retiring, he was a police adviser to the court.
Dubis urged younger officers to always follow their training and remember they work for the community. Last week, on his final night on the job, Dubis attended a Fire and Police Commission forum at Rufus King High School. People at the meeting were upset with the way police treated the family of 13-year-old Darius Simmons after he was murdered, allegedly by a 75-year-old neighbor.
And word came to Dubis' retirement party that an officer had shot and injured a robbery suspect who pointed a gun at police. For a change, it wasn't his job to drop what he was doing and go.
There's time for one more story. Dubis was on the gang squad that executed a search warrant at a residence. The suspect wasn't dressed when police arrived, so they asked him what pants he wanted to put on. He mentioned a particular pair, and Dubis checked the pockets for weapons. Instead, he found crack cocaine.
"I asked him, 'Are these yours?' And he says no. I said, 'Are these your pants?' He says, 'Yeah, but these aren't my pockets.' "
"That's the title of my book someday if I ever write one," Dubis said. "These Aren't My Pockets."