For someone who has proven to be an exemplary cold case detective, JJ Schmidt didn’t always know what he was truly was meant to do in life. Like many of the cases he solves, the discovery came via a lucky break.
JJ was a college student studying business at Texas State when an older friend who was working as a police officer invited him on a weekend ride-along. In JJ’s own words, he was instantly hooked. “I started looking around at what interested me, and I saw the effect on people truly in need at times, whether it was family violence or their kids or their collisions – I mean, just simple stuff,” he relates. Of the friend who invited him, JJ says, “I was like ‘Man, you’re really making a difference’, and he gave me a kind of sense that I wanted to be part of that.”
For the past 24 years, JJ has been making a difference in lives throughout Central Texas. Determined to follow his chosen purpose, he embarked upon a bold journey that took him from the Blanco County sheriff’s office to the Austin Independent School District police force to a City of Austin Division Chief to the Austin Police Department.
While making a difference was the purpose driving JJ’s journey, another thread ran through it as well – his focus on building relationships and encouraging collaboration. “I really try to tie people together,” he explains. “I ask who can fix this problem.”
There are those who equate needing help with being unsuccessful; who believe that accomplishing your goals as a lone wolf is the true measure of success. But for Schmidt, successfully hunting down the human wolves that have remained hidden among society is anything but a solitary task. Every step on his journey has been supported by the people who surround him, the tribes that he has built for himself. “We are there for one another and rely on each other,” said Schmidt.
As a cold case detective, Schmidt is used to overcoming obstacles. He’s also the first person to give credit to his professional tribe every time he succeeds, or lean on them when needed. Cold cases are some of the most frustrating challenges in law enforcement. Time has passed, witnesses move, memories fade. But JJ’s tribe has carried him through some tough, even seemingly hopeless, moments.
If you run low, your peers step in without even asking,” relays Schmidt. “We are all in this together.
JJ’s professional tribe is also there to celebrate success. Dwelling every day amid some of the worst that humanity has to offer creates an intense bond. Solving cases – or achieving a major breakthrough – brings his group together, refueling them for the inevitable days that success is elusive, or darkness prevails.
The knowledge and experience that bond Schmidt’s professional tribe can be a double-edged sword, though. To recharge from that often bleak world, Schmidt has created another tribe, one that he has deliberately cultivated with those outside of law enforcement. “For me, it’s about being able to surround myself with a core of people I feel safe with,” he explains. “People I can be comfortable with, that I can really relax around.”
Stout people don’t go it alone. They are determined, but know when to turn to the right people, either to reach goals, or to recharge. It takes bravery to admit that we need others, but the most successful life journeys are not solitary. There is a Swedish proverb: A sorrow shared is half the sorrow, and joy shared is twice the joy. That’s what a tribe can do for you. Find yours, and you’ll find your stout waiting. Maybe even doubled.
JJ Schmidt’s takeaways on building your tribe
- Listen and observe to find your calling.
You never know where you might find your chosen purpose-embrace new experiences.
- Celebrate your successes.
Bring your group together, refuel them for the inevitable days that success is elusive, or darkness prevails.
- Expand your tribe beyond your professional realm
Build connections with people outside your work life – create a safe zone there to recharge.
About JJ Schmidt, Detective, Austin Police Department
JJ has led teams and been awarded accolades throughout a 24+ year career, lending his talents to the technology unit, strategic intelligence, hostage negotiation, child abuse investigations, missing persons, and his current job, investigating cold case homicides. He lives in Austin, TX, with his wife Tara and their children Kaleigh and Kade.
Top Photos by Matt Lankes. Bottom photo by Amanda Karrh