Brimfield Police Department started 24/7 service 25 years ago

By Dave O'Brien | staff writer Published:

Hanging on a wall at Brimfield's Police Department headquarters is a reminder of the department's roots: A photo of the five original, full-time police officers to serve the township when the department started full-time 24/7 service in 1988.

Five men -- Police Chief Dennis Holodnak and officers Bob Burgess, Paul Delisle, David Desko and David Harmon -- were the first full-time Brimfield police officers in 1988. Today, 25 years later, the department has almost four-times as many employees, serves approximately twice the population, and Brimfield remains the only township in Portage County with its own police department.

Police Chief David Oliver said he expects his officers to respond to more than 14,000 calls and arrest more than 1,000 criminal suspects this year.

The 25th anniversary came and went without fanfare, but one of the original officers recalled 1988 being a busy, exciting and even dangerous time.

Even in 1988, Brimfield was a busy place to be a cop, Burgess said. A sergeant on the force at the beginning, he and Holodnak, the chief, had been deputies with the Portage County Sheriff's Office. They knew that Brimfield was "the most active township" in Portage County when it came to police calls, he said.

Brimfield was in a unique geographic position at the time: The neighboring cities of Kent and Tallmadge were interested in acquiring land, and attempts at annexation ended up being fought out in court. Akron was projected to grow and had interests in the Mogadore Reservoir, on the township's south side, as part of its watershed, Burgess said.

Many people crossed the Portage County border from Tallmadge, which was "dry," to drink alcohol in Brimfield. That led to it being one of only two townships in Ohio to be at capacity for liquor permits for a time, and resulted in many bar fights and domestic violence incidents, he said.

The original police station was a "two-room nutshell" in the basement of the town hall. For $1,200 each, the department bought used Ohio Highway Patrol police cruisers -- 1985 Ford Crown Victorias, most with 100,000 miles on them, Burgess said. He estimated that in the beginning, 90 percent of calls for police assistance were for criminal activity, and officers had to stay on their toes and "get creative," because backup wasn't always close by.

With the support of township trustees and funded by a permanent levy, Burgess said he and Holodnak worked together to build the department "from the papers clips up." Burgess became chief in 1994, serving until 2000.

Dave Thomas succeeded Burgess as chief, and was in turn succeeded by Charles Garver in 2002. Oliver, who joined the force in 1994 and served under every chief the department has ever had, took over from Garver in 2004. He celebrated his ninth anniversary as Brimfield's top cop in early March.

The department now has 14 officers -- including three trained K-9 handlers -- seven reserve officers and several administrative assistants. It includes a DARE program in the schools, Shop-With-A-Cop and programs for senior citizens.

Some things haven't changed. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the hotels at Interstate 76 and S.R. 43 could add another 600 to 1,000 bodies to the township population on weekends, with many people staying to visit Six Flags in Aurora, Burgess said. With them, they occasionally brought crime in the form of thefts, prostitution and drugs, he said. Though Six Flags has since closed, there are more hotels than ever, and Oliver's officers are kept busy with meth labs and the occasional prostitution bust.

Four of the five schools in the Field School District also are in the township, and they add a vulnerable population of students police have to protect. Two school resource officers now spend time with students and patrolling the buildings to keep both an eye out for trouble and to be a resource for students and staff.

Over 19 years, the department outgrew its old station and township officials sought funds for a new one. A $900,000 federal loan was secured, and the new station opened in late 2012 on the footprint of the former headquarters.

Brimfield police also didn't have Facebook in 1988. In the past three years, Oliver has embraced social media as a means of staying connected to the community. The side effect is that the department has raised its profile on a local, national, and international level. Since Oliver started the page in August 2010, more than 38,000 people in all 50 states and more than 20 countries have "liked" Brimfield police on Facebook.

Oliver said he receives between 100 and 200 emails every day, from all over the world. He said he still is mystified how the page turned him and his officers into celebrities.

"It used to be, you'd go to training or a conference and someone would ask where you were from and you'd say 'Brimfield' and they'd snicker, or say 'Why do you want to work there?' Oliver said. "Now guys go, and immediately everyone wants to talk about them, and tease them about Facebook."

Now the bailiff for Portage County Common Pleas Judge Laurie Pittman, Burgess said his time with the Brimfield Police Department was "a unique experience I enjoyed." He said his fondest memory of the job was "the people" he worked with and served. He also said he enjoys taking his grandson to Applebee's in The Cascades at Brimfield to point out the picture of him and the other four original full-time officers.

The Brimfield department is "still a community-minded police agency," Burgess said. "From my armchair quarterback position, I give them high marks … It's nice to say 'I used to be there.'"

Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or dobrien@recordpub.com

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