HAINES CITY — For most people, their occupation doesn’t define who they are.

That’s not the case with Jim Elensky.

Born the only child to James and Shirley Elensky on June 21, 1967, in Buffalo, N.Y., James Robert Elensky has few passions and hobbies. The ones he does have, however, he pursues to the fullest.

“I had a passion for aviation early on and for law enforcement,” Elensky, 50, said. “I knew people in both fields.”

The soon-to-be police chief of the Haines City Police Department first took flying lessons at age 15 and earned his solo flight license on his 16th birthday. By 17, he earned a private license and soon was working as a commercial pilot for a corporation.

“When I was in New York, I was flying professionally, but I missed that enforcement and started riding with deputies,” Elensky said.

Not thrilled with the cold weather in Upstate New York, Elensky came to Florida in the late 1980s and took his first job in law enforcement as a deputy with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in January 1988. In August that year, he transferred to Polk County, where he would spend the next 25 years.

“It was this county that first took notice of my pilot’s license,” Elensky said. “I’m a strong believer in never forgetting where you came from. Some people as they move up, they forget about responding to calls and making contact with the residents, and that’s the backbone of any organization.”

Up, up and up

As a young deputy at the Sheriff’s Office, Elensky was given the keys to a Navajo Panther airplane, which at the time, was utilized by the Board of County Commissioners and law enforcement for investigations in and out of state. Elensky said the only people who flew the plane were he and one civilian pilot.

“Jim is a guy that if he was given an assignment, you can count on him completing it and completing it in the right way,” said Paul Baggett, a retired major with the Sheriff’s Office. “He goes the extra step and stays until the job is done.”

By 1999, Elensky had worked up the ranks to sergeant. Five years later, he was promoted to lieutenant, and by February 2007, Elensky had become a captain. As captain, Elensky was put over the bureau of criminal investigations, which included homicide, sex crimes, forensics and crime-scene investigation.

“My goal when I got to investigations was that I wanted to bring the homicide clearance rate to 100 percent,” he said. “It took us 16 months to get there, and in most cases, we started from ground zero. Most of our cases were ‘who done it?’”

Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said the 100 percent clearance rate is a trend that the Sheriff’s Office has continued for more than eight years.

“He started the trend when he was the captain,” Judd said of Elensky. “He didn’t stop until the crime was solved. He certainly did a good job over criminal investigations, but he did a great job no matter where we put him. He’s an honest man, a hard-working man and a true professional. I’m sure he already is, but he’ll do a great job in Haines City.”

Elensky left the Sheriff’s Office in April 2013 to be with a close friend named Linda Cloud, who he said had become like an aunt to him. After Cloud lost her husband to a suicide, Elensky said he kept her company. In 2010, she had been diagnosed with dementia and died in 2015 at 78.

“While she was of sound mind and body, she asked me that she never be put in a nursing home,” Elensky said. “I kept that promise to her, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t. She was great to me for many, many years. And the sheriff, who was a great man to work for, he understood.”

His return

After about four years, Elensky decided to make his return to law enforcement and was hired by the Haines City Police Department as deputy chief in March. The new venture to Haines City was a reunion of sorts for Elensky, who worked with then City Manager Rick Sloan and Chief Gary Hester at the Sheriff’s Office. Elensky became interim chief when Hester's resignation became official Sept. 30 and will be pinned as chief on Dec. 6.

“Jim is a talented guy,” Sloan said. “Not only is he a pilot who can fly just about anything, he has a great investigative mind. He has connections all throughout the county to go with 25 years of experience.”

Elensky also recalled working with Vice Mayor Morris West when he was Haines City’s police chief and Mayor Roy Tyler, who gave Elensky firearm training when he was a young deputy with the Sheriff’s Office.

“(Sloan) was one of my mentors at the Sheriff’s Office,” Elensky said. “He knew my work ethic, and the deputy chief position in Haines City became open, so I applied. Gary Hester was also with the Sheriff’s Office, so both my boss and city manager knew what I was capable of.”

One of the challenges that Elensky has seen going from a larger agency like the Sheriff’s Office to a municipal one that oversees about 23,000 residents is that he’s used to having more resources. When something happens outside the city limits, there’s little he can do to help. Elensky said he gets all the assistance he needs from his former employer, the Sheriff's Office. Despite the smaller group, Elensky said he’s been surrounded by a quality staff, former chief and supportive commission.

“Hester was at the SO when I got promoted to captain and he was a mentor too, in a way,” Elensky said. “What I like about him today is the fact that he has so much knowledge in all aspects of county government. He provided that to me on a daily basis.”

One elected official has already taken notice of Elensky’s impact in Haines City.

“He’s a low-key deputy chief as he always gives credit to the rest of his team,” City Commissioner Anne Huffman said. “There’s something about him where he just shows empathy to victims’ families. You can see that he genuinely cares and this is not just a job. He’s full of ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’ and I just like that about him.”

Huffman said Elensky has gone above and beyond when it comes to making sure Bethune Academy students are safe when they walk through some of the rougher areas of town on their way to and from school. Huffman said one of the funnier stories about Elensky is that there was a pit bull in the neighborhood that everyone feared and the owner could barely keep on a leash, but the deputy chief walked right up and petted the dog.

“People respect him, but there’s a human side to him, too,” she said. “He’s one of those people who gets the job done without having to be a robo-cop. We’re lucky to have him, and I hope we have him for many, many years.”

'Dogs and fast cars'

As for Elensky, community policing is something he takes very seriously. Elensky said that can be defined in many ways, but it’s not just about putting “bad guys in jail” to him, it’s about reaching the at-risk youth and empowering communities by working with its pillars.

“He looks out for the people he oversees,” Baggett said. “He’s a person who comes off as someone with a thick exterior, but he really cares about people and he cares about the community. He actually walks the walk, and he’s just an all-around good guy with a love for dogs and fast cars.”

As for the fast cars, he’s also pre-ordered a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, which comes out in January. Elensky currently drives a Jeep Cherokee SRT.

As for dogs, Elensky said he always has two. Currently, he has a Jack Russell terrier named Jack and a German shepherd named Nyla.

“I’ve always loved dogs,” he said. “They’re always happy, so when you’ve had a bad day, they’re there just excited to see you.”

When it comes to policing, Sloan said Elensky has already solved a homicide case that had been unsolved for about a year. Elensky, who works hard to stay in shape, said he plans on working another 10 years in law enforcement if he’s able. Elensky said his dedication to his job is the reason he never considered marriage or a family, but he has no regrets.

“Law enforcement and marriage don’t seem to have a real good track record, based on my experience, but there’s some (who made it),” Elensky said. “I’d like to work until I’m 60. This job, it does define me.”

Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter@ MikeWFerguson.