By Carol Stiffler
Zachariah Kitzman put on a Luce County Sheriff Department uniform for the first time last week, having recently been hired to fill the department’s vacant position. It had been empty for about eight months.
Kitzman is part of the Kitzman family that has been assisting with local law enforcement for decades. His father, James Kitzman, was the last chief of the Newberry Police Department, an organization that ceased operations in 2008. James Kitzman transitioned to a deputy position at the Luce County Sheriff Department and has since retired.
Mary Kitzman, the wife of James, is currently the office manager for the Luce County Sheriff Department. Tony Kitzman, her son and Zachariah’s younger brother, now works there part time.
“A lot of our family members have been police officers,” Zachariah Kitzman said. “I have a cousin who was a deputy in Ontonagon. One of my uncles was a sheriff. Another uncle was in the state police. There’s a lot of us–a lot of military, law enforcement officers, and farmers. Or those keeping law enforcement in business. There have been a few of those, too. “
Kitzman, a 2003 graduate of Newberry High School, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2007 and served as a combat medic. He completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq was pretty “chill”, he said, and he mostly treated soldiers who had had incidental, non-combat injuries. Afghanistan was different.
When he left the military in 2013, he enrolled in school at Northern Michigan University to study history and anthropology. He graduated in 2017 and was looking at earning a master’s degree when a story broke on the national scene that April: A Chinese doctor had been beaten by police and forcibly removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight so airline employees could take his seat.
Kitzman was livid, and calls it his “come to Jesus” moment.
“And it clicked: ‘Why don’t you do something about it?’” he said. “I decided to become a better officer than the people in the news at that time.”
Kitzman describes himself as “affable” police officer and a “chatty Cathy” and says he does not like to write many traffic tickets. He seeks a connection with the people he meets on every call or traffic stop.
“I do like reaching out and helping people,” he said. “Specifically when they’re struggling.”
Kitzman, now married to his wife, Rebekah, is the father of five children between the ages of 12 and 4. His wife and kids are still living in Ishpeming while they hunt for a house with at least four bedrooms in or near Newberry.
“I think we’re here for the long haul,” said Kitzman, who has long-term hopes of becoming Luce County Sheriff one day. He’d also like to see the community make more connections and bonds within itself.
Kitzman is scheduled to work nights with a 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. schedule, and has already been out on a lot of complaint calls, according to Undersheriff Eric Gravelle.
Two applications came in for the position, Gravelle said, and thorough background checks gave Kitzman the edge.
“He comes already certified with experience, and being a hometown boy, we figure he’ll probably be around for a while,” Gravelle said.
All open positions within the department are currently filled.
It’s been a coming home of sorts for the Kitzman siblings in recent years, with four of them moving back home and one of them living not too far away in Brimley. His brother, Tony, was just elected as commander of the Newberry American Legion Post.
“I’m glad to be back,” he said. “I’ll talk to anybody, anytime, about anything. Walk up, say hi. I’m terrible with names, but I’m really good with faces.”