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Published: Wednesday, 7/19/2006

Sylvania Township police chief armed with listening skills

BY JANET ROMAKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Robert Metzger, Jr. Robert Metzger, Jr.
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As Robert Metzger, Jr., settles into his new job as Sylvania Township police chief, he plans to put into use an essential tool: his ears.

"I need to listen," he said.

Not only will he listen to police department staff, but to community residents as he gathers information that will help him do his job.

"For the first several months, I want to listen to the community and meet with organizations and groups," he said, noting that "I think the hardest skill to learn is how to listen."

As he listens, he can form his own opinions and he can work to build on the police department's strong foundation. There will be some tweaking here and there, and some changes as he works to "bring it all together" to make the department more efficient and effective, he said.

When Sylvania Township trustees hired Chief Metzger, who began his duties Monday, Trustee Carol Contrada described him as a "working chief who will be out there with the police officers." She noted that the new chief will be involved in community activities.

Chief Metzger, 54, former chief of police of Huron Township, Michigan, in southern Wayne County, said it will be necessary for him to fill out paperwork and handle other behind-the-desk duties, but "I'm not going to sit around in my office. I am going to ride with the officers. I want to get out and about and be accessible."

Trustees said they selected Chief Metzger for a variety of reasons.

"He is very intelligent. He is knowledgeable and easygoing. He has strength of character and he is confident," said Mrs. Contrada.

Because trustees believe that it is important that the chief live in the community, they asked him - and he agreed - to reside in Sylvania Township. He and his wife, Linda, have been looking but have not yet bought a home there. The couple have two sons and three grandchildren.

The township, the new chief said, "is a very safe community. I am not going to change the crime-fighting ways of the department. We have very motivated people in the department."

He said he will develop a mission statement for the department after gathering input from the staff and community. The mission statement will let the public know "who we are," he said.

Chief Metzger, who was one of five finalists for the post, was awarded a two-year contract.

He has 30 years of experience in law enforcement. Since 2000, he had served as Huron Township's police chief. He was chief of the Adrian police department from 1997 to 2000. He was born in Chicago, but grew up in the Flint-Saginaw area in Michigan.

He replaces Sylvania Township's former chief, Joe Valvano, Jr., who resigned unexpectedly during a trustees' meeting in January.

Rob Boehme, a captain and veteran of the department, served as interim chief.

Chief Metzger, who said he leads by example, praised the township for using a search firm to assist in the hiring process for the new chief and he applauded the township for hiring a consultant to conduct a review of police department policies.

"That says a ton about the community. It tells me a lot about the trustees and about the government," he said, adding that the recently completed report on the police department's operations helps provide him with "a good running start."

Although the report contains some frank and candid observations that are critical of the department, Chief Metzger wasn't put off by the information. Rather, he welcomed the opportunity to use his skills and his experience to enhance the department. Management, he said, is one of his key strengths.

"I was looking for a specific spot where I could match my strengths. This is exactly the place, the area where I want to be."

And he plans to stay awhile.

"I am looking at a 10-year commitment," he said.

The police department has had a lot of turnover in recent years in the top slot. The report on the department noted that a lack of leadership can be verified by the fact that the township has had five chiefs of police in the last 10 years.

Sylvania Township's department has 44 officers and about 14 support staff members.

In his review of the report on the police department, he noticed a theme that was emphasized in the document: This is a great department and a great community.

As outlined in the report, the department "needs some coordination," he said, and change will occur, but he intends to make the transitions as smooth as possible.

Contact Janet Romaker at: jromaker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6006.



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