MOUNT GILEAD — After nearly 30 years spent serving and protecting the village, Police Chief Brian Zerman has hung up his badge.
“I came out of the military, did a couple of odd jobs and started working at Marion Correctional Institution,” he recalled.
During that stint Zerman began taking an interest in law enforcement.
“I talked to a a couple of guys who were deputies. That piqued my interest so I came over and talked to Chief Bob Ruhl.”
Zerman retired Jan. 29, ending a career that began as an auxiliary officer in 1991. A small party with cake and gifts was held in village hall that afternoon.
He became full-time in 1994 and took over as chief in 2003.
“The biggest thing is this is my home; grew up here and went to school here. I’ve always lived here or close to here. I guess that sense of wanting to take care of your own is what’s kept me here,” he said.
Mayor Jamie Brucker did his first ride-along with Zerman while serving as a council member.
“I got to understand his philosophy on the department. I got to work a lot closer with him when I became mayor and I value his leadership and the culture he had with the staff.”
Zerman said he had a couple of opportunities to work at bigger police departments.
“I started to go through the process a couple of times and actually got to where I had to make a decision. Part of it, at the time, was money-based. At the end of the day something inside me just said ‘stay home,’ so I did.”
Over three decades many changes have taken place that affect law enforcement.
“When I started full-time I was working third shift and at that time there three law enforcement officers in the entire county. There was a sheriff’s deputy and a state highway patrolman who also covered Knox County.
“That made for some interesting nights for sure, knowing that your closest help was up at Lakeview Estates or down at Sparta — and vice versa for those guys. Obviously, that’s changed and there’s a lot more help.”
Computers in the squad cars didn’t exist at that time.
“Computers in the office were just kind of starting. We did a lot of hand-written reports. Everything we do now is on a computer so that’s been a big change.”
The biggest advancement, Zerman believes, is in the abundance of DNA testing available now.
“That wasn’t even heard of when I started. If you think now what could we have accomplished back then with what we have today, it’s unbelievable.”
Communication is vastly improved, also as a result of technology.
“Almost on a daily basis we’ll get bulletins from other agencies who have something going on or looking for someone. Back then, if you didn’t get a phone call you knew nothing about it; unless it was in a surrounding county they’d send it out over the system.”
An event that happens in Columbus, for example, is known to local agencies almost immediately.
“We know about it within minutes, versus it might have been days back then,” Zerman said.
This allows for more cooperation between departments and task forces in the area.
Time to move on
“There’s been a lot of good times and some sad times, which you’ll have.”
Zerman says he’ll miss the people he has worked with, but realized it was time to retire.
“I’ll miss working with the schools and the kids,” he said.
He has no definite plans beyond helping coach his two sons in travel baseball and spending time with his family, including his wife Elisha.
“He always cared about people first,” Brucker said.
He presented Zerman with a resolution of commendation, a plaque and his decommissioned chief’s badge shortly before he marked off shift for the final time.
“It’s going to be different not seeing him at the school and leading the parades in downtown. Brian has always been a steadfast, steady level-headed leader.”