Police chief to retire after 34-plus years on the job

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Next April, Chatham-Kent Police Chief Dennis Poole will trade in his office for the golf course, and just maybe a shallow stream or two as he retires after 34 years as a police officer.
Next April, Chatham-Kent Police Chief Dennis Poole will trade in his office for the golf course, and just maybe a shallow stream or two as he retires after 34 years as a police officer.

 

It’s hard to believe, but Chatham-Kent Police Chief Dennis Poole thought about quitting law enforcement early in his career.

Instead, he persevered and ascended the ranks to reach the top spot with the local police service.

In April of next year, Poole will retire. That’s more than three decades after the time he considered quitting.

“It wasn’t what I thought it would be,” Poole told The Chatham Voice in a candid interview. “It was my second or third year. I’d seen enough human misery. It affects you. You don’t know how other people live until you enter their lives.”

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Poole, who grew up in Chatham in a middle class neighbourhood, said he didn’t realize the depths to Chatham’s dark side when he signed up to the Chatham Police Force in 1980.

“I didn’t really think bad things happened in Chatham,” he said.

But Poole gutted it out, despite seeing a great deal of human heartache over the years.

“When I was an investigator, I did a lot of child abuse cases. You start to wonder what people are thinking,” he said. “It’s one thing to deal with the murder of an adult – it’s terrible. But with a child, it’s the exploitation of our most vulnerable that’s disturbing.”

Through it all, Poole can’t believe how fast his career, especially his time as chief, has gone by.

Poole worked his way up the local policing ranks, reaching what he thought was his dream job as a detective with the Chatham service. But he said when the amalgamated police service came into effect in 1998, then-chief John Kopinak approached him to do more.

He agreed, and left his comfort zone to continue his ascent.

He became deputy chief when Kopinak retried and Carl Herder took the chief’s title, and then took over from Herder in January of 2009.

Despite being only 54, Poole truly believes it is time for someone else to take over.

“In this type of position, your time expectancy is five to seven years,” he said. “After seven years, your energy levels and ideals have probably been implemented.”

The veteran peace officer said policing has evolved a great deal over the years, and continues to do so.

Today, new officers receive orientation by their local service, and are sent off to police college for three months, then return to work with a “coach” – a veteran officer who helps guide the rookie.

When Poole joined in 1980 at the tender age of 20, he said he was basically taught how to shoot, received a little orientation, and was sent out on the job.

“I had to qualify with a six-shot revolver. You carried your spare bullets in your pocket,” he said. “I had a little billy stick I carried in my back pocket, and handcuffs. That was about it.”

Before heading off to police college, he was out walking the beat on King Street.

There were no computers in the police cruisers, no BlackBerrys, just a police radio.

Poole took it upon himself to improve his safety chances. For starters, he purchased speed loaders for his revolver, where the loader holds a full reload. With the device, an officer could open the revolver, empty the spent shells, pull out the speed loader, line up the bullets, and refill all six chambers at the same time – much faster than pushing home the rounds one bullet at a time.

And while body armour is mandatory today, back in 1980, veteran officers made fun of anyone who opted to wear bulletproof vests, which officers wore under their uniforms.

Poole didn’t care. He purchased his own vest. It was large, heavy and uncomfortable.

“I wore it every day,” he said. “It didn’t matter that you had to come in and change your T-shirt under it a couple of times a day. To me, it was always worth it.”

As for the lack of technology, Poole recalls when he made detective in the mid-1980s, he bought his own “brick phone,” a heavy, large cellular phone, archaic by today’s standards, but state of the art at the time.

“It was just so handy,” he said, of having the phone on the job.

How things have changed.

“Now, to have all that technology at our fingertips … it is so much more efficient, which is needed as there are more demands on every call.”

What hasn’t lost its importance over the years, regardless of technology and changes to police practices, Poole said, is the coaching from veteran officers.

“There is still a lot of on-the-job training. You can read the books, study the law, but when you come back home (from police college), that’s when you realize how the law actually applies and how to use decision-making processors to react accordingly,” he explained.

But the advances in technology and equipment are extremely helpful, he added. Usually non-lethal options such as pepper spray and Tasers, and better body armour “helps us protect our officers and helps protect the public.”

He has also seen how useful technological advances are in putting the bad guys behind bars. Poole was the lead investigator in the Danny Miller case, the first case locally where DNA was used in the courts.

“It was groundbreaking. The O.J. Simpson trial was going on,” he said.

Miller’s killer, Jeffrey Wayne Manley, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1995.

Poole is proud of many things during his time in the top-cop seat, but none more so than the evolution of community policing and community engagement.

“We have to deal with the root causes in crime,” he said. “One reason is that police recognize you can’t attend call after call at the same place and try to arrest your way out of it. The court system is not necessarily the place to deal with social issues.”

He said those issues include poverty, parenting, addiction, and psychological matters.

“If we can deal with a family in crisis and get them the necessary services to support them, maybe we can lessen the impact as it goes forward,” he said.

As such efforts take hold, Poole said officers aren’t “running to the same location” repeatedly, for the most part.

Poole is poised to leave this all behind next April.

“I’m going to take a break. I will find my golf clubs,” he said.

Travelling and even taking up fly-fishing will replace morning meetings and long days in his appointment book.

No body armour, no six-shooter, and no brick phone.

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