MOUNT GILEAD — Charles “Cappy” Chandler recalls his first ride-along when he joined the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office.
“It was with Dale (Beam). I don’t know if he remembers that or not. I was probably 19 or 20 years old.” Chandler said as a group of more than a dozen men and women gathered around a table last month to reminisce about their time working with that agency.
Chandler recently became Westerville’s Police Chief. Beam works with the Columbus Airport Authority.
“My dad was actually a Mount Gilead police officer,” Chandler said.
This fraternity continues to stay in touch — stemming from their time as colleagues here — even though they work in other counties.
Grass roots start
Morrow County Sheriff John Hinton recognizes the talent and leadership that began developing while they were members of the agency he now oversees.
“You got two chiefs of police sitting here. You got the commander of an academy. You have one of the most successful canine narcotics handlers in the state,” he said.
“Call it a training ground, call it what you will. But all these people at one point worked here,” Hinton said.
Chandler recalls the lean years when layoffs occurred in the department.
“I came in one night and one of the deputies had called off. There weren’t many deputies left and the only deputy left was working at the desk. So it was me, Cardington was a part-time police department then and nobody was working that night. And there was one (Ohio Highway Patrol) trooper covering both Morrow County and Knox County,” he said.
Learning on the job
“Back in the day we didn’t have that many officers. Ride-alongs is where you give newbies your first taste of law enforcement,” Beam said. “Back in the early 90s you didn’t have any back-up in the car with you. You learned right off the bat to do everything yourself,” he said.
Others talked about expanding their skill set because it is a smaller agency. Several called it “a foot in the door” to their law enforcement careers.
“It was special for me,” said Rob Howard, who serves as Sunbury police chief.
“Everybody helped everybody,” said Jeremy Shipman, a Westerville police officer. “You’d call Cardington or Mount Gilead to back you up.”
You could be jailer, dispatcher and road unit all in one shift, Chandler noted.
“There were lots of years where you’d be the only person out on midnights,” said Brandon Moore, retired Morrow County Sheriff’s office detective.
“It was a great place to start,” Shipman said.
Greg Perry brought a diverse background to the discussion.
The Cardington native is a former prosecutor and Morrow County Sheriff’s deputy. He is Director of Criminal Justice and Law at Marion Technical College.
“We didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t always have back-up. But we got a lot of experience. We were generalists; we couldn’t be specialists,” Perry said.
“Six months experience and you’d see a lot of things you wouldn’t see in other places,” he said.
Rural police work
Chandler, a 24-year law enforcement veteran, pointed out the differences between urban and rural areas.
“Rural and small-town policing is more challenging than what the public thinks. You’re doing building searches by yourself, handling domestics by yourself … when you work in an area with higher population you have more officers.
“When you work in rural policing, to a certain extent you’re on your own, depending on the hour of the day.” Chandler said.
Chief Deputy Troy Landon talked about handling multiple calls.
“It’s a Saturday and I’m at a domestic. I’m in the middle of one and the dispatcher, she has another one coming in. You clear up as quick as you can and I said give me the next most severe.”
Chandler said he recalls his dad as an officer in the 1960s when call box lights were installed in Mount Gilead.
“They didn’t have a radio. He’d drive through downtown and if there was a light that was rotating on the side of the building that meant call the station.”
Moore said discretion often is required when answering a call.
“You learn how to de-escalate a situation. You can’t go in there and run your mouth. You have to be diplomatic and be respectful and keep things from getting any worse.”
Regardless of the size of a community, Chandler believes “the vast majority of law enforcement officers are good people trying to make a difference.”
While deputies know many of the residents due to the smaller population, because of Interstate 71 and State Routes 61 and 71, officers recognize “there’s a lot of transient traffic in Morrow County.”
Officers also need to be more careful today due to increased scrutiny.
“Everything is videotaped and some things are under a microscope,” said Rashad Pitts, Delaware County Sheriff’s Office detective who also worked here and called it a tight-knit group.
Several referred to their career choices as a calling.
“You’ve got a ticket to the greatest show on Earth,” Shipman said. “We do a job that many people could not do. And you never run out of people to help.
“It’s a cohort. We all started in the same place. We have a bond that will always be there.”
“There is no better job on the planet,” Chandler said.