When Jim Tapocsi joined the Porter County Sheriff’s Department in 1967, there were 11 men, including the sheriff. There was only one patrol car and the two men on duty flipped a coin to decide who was heading out on the road and who was staying back to man the jail.
Back then the entire area of Valparaiso was different. State Road 149 was being built and was finished in the 60’s and Interstate Highway I-80 was constructed during the Vietnam War years, while Tapocsi was serving in the Air Force.
Arguments were won by drag racing through town, and Portage was nothing but a few buildings. When he returned from the Air Force in 1966, Bethlehem Steel was finished.
The changes he has seen overtime would be difficult to explain over the phone, and would take much longer than a simple interview, he said.
“What I have seen, it is unbelievable,” he said. “People don’t realize that past U.S. 30, there was nothing but farmland. There was nothing there but a gas station. Broadway was nothing. All this stuff, it is unreal.”
Tapocsi, 75, has seen a lot and as has been through a lot as a life-long member of the City of Valpo and a 50-year member of the Porter County Sheriff’s Department.
After serving in the USAF as a police officer for four years, Tapocsi returned and was hired on the spot to join the sheriff’s department after attending Indiana University for one year.
He started off as a patrolman, then worked in the detective bureau before gradually transitioning into more office work, managing the bills, payments, and budgets. He eventually retired from the department in 2000 as a captain. Tapocsi attended the Charter Class of the Law Enforcement Academy in 1969, taking Top Gun out of 100 officers. The following year, he was class counselor at IU Bloomington for the second class. He continued as Firearms Instructor at the Academy from 1973-1986.
During his years in detective work, his Chief of Police at the time Kelly Gott started training him to shoot firearms.
“We started shooting in cow pastures and where ever we could find space,” he said. “He (Gott) would reload all the ammunition for me and then in the years 1973-74, I was shooting a lot with other members of the department like Jim Atkinson, Bill Woods, and Bill Garner.”
Tapocsi said he would shoot up to 300 rounds three times a week for a year and a half.
In 1977, he entered his first National Sheriff Shooting Competition.
“I didn’t do anything there,” he said. “There were approximately 970 shooters. The competition was so intense and the adrenaline really got to me when there were 50 shooters on the line at the same time. I was near the bottom of the list that first year.”
But he came back the next year and won the championship, taking first out of 950 shooters. He also won Match 5 consisting of 24 rounds at 50 yards in timed firing, with a score of 239/240.
“And then I kept going to Nationals and in 1984, I won the National Revolver Service Championship consisting of three guns, and in 1986 I won the National Sheriff’s Championship again,” he said. Tapocsi is the only Sheriff’s officer in Indiana to win two national championships to this day.
In the mid-70’s, after building the Porter County Jail, Tapocsi, along with Porter County Sheriff’s Reserve Officers, donated their time for sixteen months to build an indoor shooting range in the basement of Jail building.
Over the years, the trophies and awards have piled up in the Tapocsi household.
“I threw away boxes and boxes of trophies,” he said. “I had so many, I couldn’t keep all of them – just the good ones I had.”
Tapocsi went to counter-sniper school in Georgia and to several gun-making factories to learn more about the repair process, including Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Ruger, Glock, and Remington Arms. Through grants, he also obtained his fixed wing and helicopter pilot’s licenses.
“I went to counter-sniper school for a few weeks with the FBI secret service,” he said. “They taught us how to shoot starting at 300, then to 1,000 meters. By the end, I was making 90 percent of the kills at 1,000 meters with M14’s.”
While in the department, Tapocsi trained people in shooting throughout the area and he would apply for firearms grants for all Porter County officers to earn the ammunition to shoot every month.
Throughout his career, Tapocsi has worked under numerous Sheriffs, including Myrick Crampton, Jack Bradshaw, Timothy E. McCarthy, Ed Miller, Larry Dembinski, David Reynolds, David Lain, and again David Reynolds.
He was honored with a beautiful commemorative plaque at the Porter County Sheriff’s Police Christmas party for 50 years of service to the department recently, he said.
He now works as a security officer in the Porter County Sheriff’s Department, no longer competing in gun matches, but still working and practicing with them when he can.
Tapocsi taught his family – wife, Susan and three children – how to shoot, and since he doesn’t compete anymore, the shooting rounds against his sons and daughter keep him fresh.
“I don’t do competitions anymore. I did what I needed to do. There is nothing more I can do,” he said. “I don’t practice that much. It is not hard to qualify, for me.
My two boys, my daughter, and my wife, they all shoot very well. They keep me on my toes.”
Tapocsi will always love living in Valpo, because even though there are more roads, more buildings, more everything, it is still home.
“I like the area. I know where everything is and know what I can do to get things done. There are no surprises,” he said. “People are very good here.”