SYLACAUGA – In the late 1980s, they were both recent high school graduates with the same dream of entering law enforcement, just like their fathers before them.
As fate would have it, the two young men, one in Sylacauga and the other in Chicago, made decisions that would set their lives on a similar trajectory.
“Ours is a story about law enforcement, but more about friendship and the bond policemen have,” said Dan Prskalo, a Chicago police officer and friend of Sylacauga Police Chief Chris Carden.
Prskalo entered the U.S. Army Military Police Corps in 1988, and Carden joined the year after. The two met in Augsburg, Germany, in 1990 when they were both assigned to Headquarters Company with the 204th Military Intelligence Battalion and became roommates. The following year, they were deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Shield and then Desert Storm.
“We became roommates, then best friends,” Carden said. “Then we went to the desert together. When we came back, he went to Fort Bragg and I went to Fort McClellan. We got out of the Army within a year of each other and started our civilian law enforcement careers together.”
After the military, Prskalo returned to Chicago in 1994 and worked at the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. Carden joined the Sylacauga Police Department, where his father and grandfather worked before him. In 1996, Prskalo also followed in his father’s footsteps, joining Chicago Police Department and taking on his father’s badge number, 10885, which was originally retired in 1988 when his father left the department after 30 years.
Despite the distance and differences between them, Prskalo and Carden have maintained a close friendship over the last two decades.
“We’ve always, always kept in contact,” Prskalo said. “Any time something significant happens, we let each other know.”
Carden said friendships formed in the military are unlike any other.
“Military friendships stand the test of time, and that’s really true in this case,” he said. “My daughter, Elizabeth, is actually named after Dan. Her middle name is Danielle. Every critical thing that has happened in my life, he’s the person I talk to. Of course, we lead very different lives, but we’ve just been best friends for a quarter of a century.”
Though they chose the same career, the pair could not have chosen more different paths. In Sylacauga, Carden rose to the chief position and oversees a staff of 42 people.
In Chicago, Prskalo is one of about 10,000 officers and has never once met with the police chief. Prskalo holds an important job, though, working in some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods to combat gangs, guns and drugs.
“Law enforcement is in my blood,” Prskalo said. “It sounds corny, but it’s the truth. I really enjoy helping people, and I like to see results. When you do something good – arrest somebody, solve something, or help somebody out – I get satisfaction from that. It’s not all about the running and gunning you see in the Hollywood stuff. I like to interact with people on a personal level. I’ve been working in the same area for 16 years, so people know me and trust me. They know they can tell me things, and if they want results, they’ll call me.”
Carden enjoys his job as chief for much the same reason, he said.
“The differences are vast in what we do, but everything comes back around to the primary reason that we police – to generate voluntary compliance,” Carden said. “It’s the same thing they do in Chicago, but the means to which it’s accomplished is different.”
Every few years, one of the men visits the other in their hometown. Prskalo arrived in Sylacauga this weekend and will be here until Wednesday. It is his fourth or fifth visit, he said, and he is looking forward to spending some time in nature – a rarity in the big city – and seeing the improvements at the Sylacauga Police Department.
“I’m happy Chris made chief and that he’s doing things for the police department to bring it into the 21st century with the cars, the equipment, the uniforms,” Prskalo said. “I think it’s great.”
Carden has visited Chicago several times as well, and even recruited Prskalo to be a tour guide when Carden’s church group went to the city years ago.
“We’re just best friends,” Carden said.