Retiring police chief recalls his career
The Salem police chief was influenced by the Sebring police chief.
By D.A. WILKINSON
VINDICATOR SALEM BUREAU
SALEM -- Police Chief Michael Weitz began carrying his first badge when he was 11 years old.
Weitz, 55, was a school patrol boy in his native Sebring. He's been in law enforcement almost all his life.
The chief has announced his retirement after 31 years in law enforcement. His last day will be March 31.
"I'll be hands-on right up until the day I go," said Weitz.
He's deliberately retiring on April Fools' Day, just for fun. Weitz, with a laugh, said people will hear of his departure and say, "Did he really retire?"
Weitz's father was a machinist and his mother was a hostess at Alliance Country Club.
The chief said that the late Paul Gednetz, chief of the Sebring Police Department, was very influential in his life.
"During the day, the chief would check that we were doing a proper job," said Weitz.
At the end of every school year, Gednetz would have a cookout at Berlin Lake for all the crossing guards.
Those experiences, and his family's record of military service, pointed him toward law enforcement. After graduating, he began studying criminal justice at Kent State University.
But Weitz said he "basically got burned out" at school. He had met his wife-to-be, Ramona, during classes. He got married and began working in a machine shop.
Joined Salem police
He also joined Salem's police auxiliary and worked for one year for the Sebring Police Department. In 1976, he joined the Salem force, which had five lieutenants and 13 patrolmen. Weitz said the new officer traditionally got Badge 13 to make him think about the realities of the job.
Weitz was sent to investigator's school and became the first sergeant in the department. He was the first chief to have an annual budget of more than $1 million. He also installed computers and reduced paperwork, improved communications, expanded the department from 19 to 24 members, introduced four-wheel drive vehicles for patrols, and agility and psychological tests for officers.
"I've tried to be progressive, but cost-efficient," Weitz said. "But I want the city to have the best."
The chief had an open-door policy for the public and members of the department. Officers could come and talk to him if they had a problem.
"Rank stops at the [chief's] door," Weitz said.
Cruisers are constantly visible in the city. Weitz said, "I'm definitely a believer in high-profile patrols."
The chief said he's seen the decline of the family unit as the times have changed.
"I've seen 12-year-olds who were worldwise," he said.
Police see the worst in human behavior, but Weitz said that the job comes down to, "respect for your shield, respect for yourself as a police officer, and above all, respect for the people and the citizens you took an oath to serve and protect," Weitz said.
The Salem department, the chief said, was doing community policing long before community policing became common. Sometimes, he said, an arrest was not the best solution.
Most of all, he said, officers should "treat a person like you want to be treated."
The chief said that the average manager lasts about 10 years.
"I accomplished the goals I wanted to accomplish. I'm ready to hand it over to someone else," Weitz said.
Salem has been very good to him, he said, adding, "I love the city. I love the department."