BCSO Deputy Kenneth Autenrieb’s Life of Service
By Julia Torres
Accustomed to serving for the chief branch of military service, Kenneth Autenrieb completed his Army enlistment in 1988 and pursued employment with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, BCSO. Ken, the youngest of four boys, was the one who always took charge and directed things. Upon his separation from service, things would be no different.
Excited to continue in a field of service, he applied to the BCSO. He recalls how his “questionable driving record as a youth” had led him to join the Army, hoping it’d help and later, being pleasantly surprised when it had. Yet, however forgiving the armed forces had been with Ken’s need for speed, the BCSO only permitted him to be hired for corrections. He notes how, “It would take 8.5 years to get cross-certified and transferred to road patrol.”
The BCSO, founded in 1915, is the county’s lead law enforcement agency in sunny Florida. It oversees more than 1.8 million residents, making it the second most populated county. Fort Lauderdale, the county seat, is a destination for tourists who enjoy cruising from its port, which is one of top three in the world.
The agency, which services the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and merged with the Fire Rescue Department in 2003, is known for its pioneering efforts. Their 911 emergency system is one of the most advanced in the United States; FOX’s “COPS” series first season debuted in 1989 with BCSO; and they developed into the biggest fully accredited sheriff’s office.
Let’s listen to this no-nonsense, guy-next-door’s answers on his diverse police career:
What squads did you work for and which was your favorite?
MAGTAF (Multi Agency Gang Task Force), RACS (Regional Anti-Crime Squad), SET (Selective Enforcement Team), FIELD FORCE (Emergency Reactionary Force used for hurricanes, riots, crowd control, etc.), CI (Criminal Investigations), and FTO (Field Training Officer) later changed to FTD (Field Training Deputy).
I loved training the new recruits. The other squads had their perks and such, but I really enjoyed teaching.
From the moment your career began to the day it ended, how much changed and how was your progression?
Immensely! When I started, it was still the good old boys club. I don’t think I would have ever been hired except for the fact that the agency was growing so fast, as well as the county as a whole. Women officers were still wearing skirts and the jails still had old-fashioned bars. Squad cars had an in-car radio and a single bubble light. No computers. No printers. Nothing of the sort.
By the end of my career, we were dispatched through our in-car laptops. Radios were a third the size of the old bricks we carried. All the lights were LED, we wore body cameras. Dash cameras were reserved for traffic units only, when they first came out. We went from 8-hour shifts to 12s.
Seniority means nothing anymore. Recruits think they are equals and nobody pays their dues anymore. Promotions were based on abilities, now they’re based on the best test takers.
I heard Sheriff Nick Navarro (1985-1993) was a stellar guy. I read that in 84-85, BCSO employees went from 1,600 to 3,000 plus, and that the budget that had started at $74 million ended up being $200 million by ‘92’s end. How was it working under him?
I got hired at the beginning of his 2nd term in 1988. He lost the primary in August of ‘92 and blamed Hurricane Andrew for the low voter turnout. He was a cop’s cop, very likable and dedicated to his deputies. We had all the latest gadgets and assets, but he never gave us a pay raise. That’s why we rallied against him in the ‘92 election.
What was the highlight of your career?
It was bittersweet because I received Co-Deputy Of The Year for Pompano Beach (contract city with BSO) with my best friend and partner Danny Frieberger in 2007 for the work we did to apprehend the Walgreens/CVS robbery suspects. We believed them to be responsible for the ambush murder of our sergeant and good friend Chris Reyka. Chris received Deputy of the Year for the entire agency (posthumously).
I remember Reyka because I was living in Florida then. It was all over the news and there was a large manhunt. Tell us about the incident with Reyka in the Walgreen’s parking lot and what your agency did for the officer’s family.
This is a tough one for me. Chris Reyka was a friend and supervisor for me. Chris loved the “hunt.” He never supervised from behind a desk. Always out hunting. He did his regular thing that night, after completing his supervisor paperwork, he drove to the Walgreen’s as usual, and found a suspicious vehicle in the back parking lot. Before he could run the temp tag, they backed straight toward him and ambushed him. The agency was incredible to his family. Two of his children are now deputies with the agency.
Was the shooter located?
Technically, it is still an unsolved homicide. It is believed that the same suspect killed a Dade County officer and the suspect died during a gun battle with the S.W.A.T. Forgive me for not remembering his name. It happened about one month after the Chris Reyka ambush. They just don’t have the evidence to prove it was him. Not yet anyway.
When did you retire and what do you do now?
June 1st, 2017, which lasted 9 months. I took a job with the City of Clermont as a Park Ranger. It’s part-time at 25 to 30 hours, which is perfect for me.
Do you ever miss the job and if so, what do you miss the most?
Yes, THE HUNT!!!!!
As you read, Ken is a man of few words on paper, but if you meet him, he will engage you in lively conversation about the good old HUNT days. Visit the Clermont, Florida area, and ask for Ranger Ken. I’m sure he will welcome a new friend.
Julia Torres earned a Master of Science in Homeland Security with a certification in Terrorism Studies from Fairleigh Dickinson University; a Jersey City State College, K-12 Teacher Certification; and a Bachelor of Arts Visual Arts from Rutgers University, where she enlisted in the Army Reserves. Upon graduating Rutgers, she began a career in law enforcement, and later volunteered for the Gulf War. Once home, she worked undercover until retiring in 2001 due to a Gulf War illness. Since then, she has done volunteer work, acted, and written two non-fiction books.