Thursday, January 18, 2001

Top Trenton cop earns raves

Many changes are in the works

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        TRENTON — The last time this city got a new police chief, disco was in, Star Wars was not a sequel and Rodney Hale was an Edgewood High School sophomore.

        So when Mr. Hale, now 40, became the top cop in his hometown three months ago, he knew many residents remembered when he was a young man who flipped burgers at his parents' restaurant.

[photo] Rodney Hale, a former Middletown police officer, is the new chief of police in his hometown of Trenton.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        He also knew most of the police department's employees had served only one chief: Joe E. Richard, who joined the department in 1971 and became chief in 1977. When he retired last July, Mr. Richard was one of the Tristate's longest-serving police chiefs.

        In contrast to the former chief's quiet, “stay-the-course” leadership style, Chief Hale is much more talkative and has asked employees to tell him what departmental changes they'd like to see.

        So during his first few months in office, Chief Hale is focused on three major goals: understanding the department's inner workings, earning employees' respect, and improving public perceptions of the department.

        “People refer to this place as "Mayberry,'” he said, an allusion to the mythical small town in the 1960s TV series The Andy Griffith Show. “But we've grown, and we're not quite Mayberry anymore.”

        Since Chief Hale's boyhood, the city's population has more than doubled, now reaching about 10,000.

        An aspect of the Mayberry image that the chief would like to keep is Trenton's low crime rate. But less flattering is the perception linked to Mayberry's Barney Fife character, the nervous, bumbling deputy sheriff.

        “People think we're a small-town police department and the people who work here aren't professional — and that's not true,” said Chief Hale, who heads a staff of 10 officers and nine dispatchers, five of whom are part-time.

        He commended Chief Richard for assembling a solid, dedicated staff. As a gesture of respect, Chief Hale retired “101,” the badge number and on-air radio call number for Chief Richard. “I'm 102,” Chief Hale said.

        Among Chief Hale's other planned changes:

        • More specialized training for dispatchers and officers.

        • A formal command structure, including at least two sergeants.

        • A makeover for the department's cruisers, uniforms and insignia patches.

        • More police involvement in the community, following an upcoming survey of citizens' perceptions and expectations of the department.

        Mr. Hale has jumped into his new job with both feet.

        “His dedication and enthusiasm are just contagious,” says dispatcher Shirley Ledford, an employee since 1978.

        The job pays $54,000 a year.

        Although Chief Hale thinks the police department's transition is going smoothly, just getting into the chief's chair required him to overcome a minefield of obstacles.

        In June, Chief Hale had to resign from the City Council seat he had held since 1998 to apply for the chief's job.

        “It was a tough decision to make, but I felt I would better serve this community as a full-time chief of police rather than as a part-time member of City Council,” Chief Hale said. He also disengaged from council's discussions on a new city manager, who would select the chief.

        Chief Hale's council resignation also put him in an awkward position professionally; his employer since 1981, the Middletown Police Division, thus learned that he was job-hunting. Nevertheless, Chief Hale said, a number of his Middletown colleagues and mentors were supportive.

        There were 23 applicants for the chief's job, and Mr. Hale was not a shoo-in just because he had been a city councilman, City Manager Ronald Phelps said.

        Mr. Hale earned the highest score on practical and written tests administered in September by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

        Besides serving Middletown as a patrol officer, detective and sergeant, Chief Hale has had extensive training. He completed a 13-week administrative officers' course at the Southern Police Institute in Louisville. He also took college courses in business management, public relations and criminal justice.

        Chief Hale is in charge of a $1.1 million budget, accounting for roughly half the city's entire budget.

        Mr. Phelps said citizens and police department employees alike have responded favorably to Chief Hale's leadership.

        “I've had people stop me on the street and tell me, "You couldn't have gotten a better person,'” Mr. Phelps said. “He's a very efficient, very effective leader. He just has the tools to do the job — and if I could recruit three or four more people like him, I would.”


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