After a 23-year career as the head of the Powell Police Department, Chief Gary Vest is set to retire from law enforcement Friday.
Vest came to Powell in 1996 after serving for seven years as the chief of the Clayton Police Department in Clayton, Ohio. Prior to his time as chief in Clayton, Vest got his first taste of law enforcement as part of the Security Police in the United States Air Force from 1972-76. After leaving the Air Force, Vest worked with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years and then in the private sectors for a few years before taking the helm in Clayton.
He holds an undergraduate degree in criminal justice and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Dayton, and he is also a graduate of the Police Executive Leadership College Session 18 and the 205th Session of the FBI National Academy.
“I expected to be (in Powell) for about three years, never knowing for sure,” Vest laughed as he talked about taking the job in Powell. “But Powell is such a great community that I just kind of fell in love with it. The county is in a great place. It has good schools, good jobs, and low crime rate. It’s just a good place to be.”
Vest said the “energy around southern Delaware County” played a significant part in him taking the position in Powell. He added the growth Powell has experienced through the years has meant more opportunities to interact with neighbors and community members in public, whether that be at a new restaurant, the grocery store, or even one of Powell’s parks, all of which helps to grow Powell’s “warm community feel.”
Of course, as the area itself has seen significant change during his time as chief, so, too, has the way law enforcement is conducted in Powell. He cited the advancements in science and technology that have transformed law enforcement’s investigative capabilities. Vest also pointed to the solid relationships that have been formed and groomed through the years with other agencies around Delaware County and Franklin County as significant resources as well.
“Those relationships really help out,” Vest said. “It’s really helpful to the community. Whatever we need, it’s available.”
Vest said his views on law enforcement work as a young man growing up in Dayton was that is was a steady paycheck. But as he got into the profession, he said he was very pleased to find that the job was a great opportunity to connect with people — and get paid to do so.
Asked why now is the right time to walk away, Vest said everyone in the department is capable of doing their job well, and he added he was looking forward to his deputy chief, Steve Hrytzik, taking over in the interim with the idea that he will soon accept the permanent position.
Hrytzik will be named as the interim chief on Friday while Powell goes through the official hiring process. He has served in the Powell Police Department for 28 years, beginning as a patrol officer before being named deputy chief in 2008.
“It’s going to be a tough job,” Vest said of Hrytzik taking the reins. “Any time you’re number two (in the chain of command), you can always rely on number one. Regardless of what the problem is, sooner or later it always comes back to the chief. One of the things I would tell him, and this is true everywhere, is that we’re not going to make everyone happy. But we do have an obligation to listen … the best thing a police chief can do is be quick to listen and a little slower to respond, until you have all the information.”
Admittedly, Vest said he was also ready to rid himself of the stress that comes with having employees working every hour of every day, in a line of work where bad days on the job could have devastating consequences.
Of course, he said it’s much easier to walk away knowing how strong the Powell Police Department is and will continue to be.
“The culture that we have at the Powell Police Department, I’m very pleased with,” Vest said. “But I would say it has little to do with me and much to do with the officers on the streets.”
He added the city of Powell should see a lot of continuity despite the change, given that Hrytzik has been operating under the same guidelines for more than two decades.
“When things are going well — our last community survey, we had 95 percent of the people saying we’re doing the job the right way — you have to look at that and ask yourself how you got there … caring about people and their problems is what makes the difference. They’re off on the right foot. Like every new leader, there will be things they may choose to do differently.”
Vest’s final few weeks on the job have included a lot of reflection. Among the things he will miss the most, he pointed to the camaraderie within the police department, not unlike how athletes will often state they miss the locker room and their teammates more than the game itself when their careers are finished.
As for what’s next for him, Vest said he is looking forward to being able to do the things he wants to do, filling his days how he chooses to, without any sort of time crunch.
However, he added he will need to be more intentional with that time as he will no longer have his daily schedules already filled in advance.
During Monday’s meeting, Powell City Council joined in celebrating Vest’s career by issuing a proclamation to declare this Friday “Gary Vest Day” in the city.
“Chief Vest has demonstrated, through his hard work, a commitment of giving back to his community, and the City of Powell thanks him for all he has done,” the proclamation reads, highlighting his work not only in the police department but as the founder of popular events in the community such as the Powell Festival, Community Bonfire and Mystery Night Out.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @ddavis_gazette.