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Rhodus cops Sylvania's top police job


CTY sylchief17p Sylvania Police Captain Rhodus, who will become Sylvania's new police chief on April 26, in the police department in Sylvania, Ohio on March 16, 2010. Jetta Fraser/Toledo Blade

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William Rhodus dreamed as a boy of becoming a policeman, and following an Army hitch after high school, he fulfilled that dream.

Now he's a policeman's policeman, having taken the chief's reins at the Sylvania Police Division last month after 26 1/2 years on the force there.

"You grow up, and you see the police in action," Chief Rhodus said last week of his childhood inspiration. "Was it the excitement? I don't know. Was it the uniform? I don't know. I thought it was a nice profession, to help and serve the community I work in."

A 1975 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Toledo, he enlisted in the Army for three years.

After his discharge, he was employed as a driver and warehouse-man for a local beer distributor while taking criminal-justice courses at the University of Toledo under the G.I. Bill.

Mr. Rhodus juggled work and school as he started a family with his wife, Ann, with whom he soon will celebrate their 31st wedding anniversary. Their three children are all grown now.

After getting his associate's degree from UT, he was employed briefly with the Lucas County Sheriff's office before his 1983 hiring into the Sylvania department, for which he was employed 16 years as a road patrolman and, following his 1994 promotion to sergeant, road supervisor. He also finished his bachelor's degree at the university.

Then-Sergeant Rhodus was placed in charge of Sylvania's Special Weapons and Tactics team when it was created in 1999, then was promoted to captain in 2002.

"He's got a lot of experience, and he's been a great captain," Mayor Craig Stough said after city council voted in March to tap then Captain Rhodus to succeed Gerald Sobb as police chief.

"We had two great candidates, and Bill had more experience, which is what it came down to."

"He's a fine choice. Bill has done a fine job as second-in-command," Chief Sobb, whose retirement took effect April 25, said after that vote. Council approved the promotion of Detective Sgt. Rick Schnoor, the other finalist for the chief's job, to captain earlier this month.

But Captain Rhodus almost didn't make it to Sylvania's top police job.

Three years ago, he tripped over a person lying on a hallway floor at Southview High School as part of an "active shooter" training exercise there and fractured his skull when he landed. Blood clots developed and he underwent brain surgery the following week to relieve them.

Rehabilitation from that freak accident took most of three months, and Chief Rhodus said he has absolutely no memory of the week immediately following it, even though he was conscious and alert before surgery.

"The fire department, doctors, and nurses all did a great job. I'm just a very fortunate guy, very lucky," he said, also crediting his wife with noticing odd behavior after the accident that suggested his injuries were worse than they seemed.

Chief Rhodus said his transition into leading the Sylvania department has been "very easy," in large part thanks to command officers' management.

"It's just a tremendous police department. We do a lot of things very well," he said.

The chief said his military experience "definitely helped me" with police work, which is paramilitary in nature. And one of his fondest memories was a staple of the job, catching a burglar - though in this case, it was no ordinary burglar.

The then-patrolman happened to be driving past the McDonald's on Alexis Road just east of downtown Sylvania when he received a radio call about a man calling the police from inside the restaurant when it was closed, reporting his own break-in!

"He was highly intoxicated. I pulled into the lot and saw him bailing out through the drive-through window," Chief Rhodus recalled.

After a brief foot chase he tackled the burglar and hauled him off to jail.

It turned out the suspect had a prior conviction on his record for a similar self-reported burglary at the Bartz-Viviano florist shop in Toledo, the chief said. Apparently this burglar got a special thrill out of taunting the police and then trying to elude them, he surmised.

But police work isn't just about apprehending criminals, Chief Rhodus said.

"It's also community involvement - everyday contact with business owners and residents," he said. "That's what I enjoy, besides catching the bad guy, and it also makes this job interesting."

Chief Rhodus now oversees a police department with 34 officers, including the captain and six sergeants, and a $4 million budget.

It is also a department whose ranks are in transition, with six new officers coming on board in stages to replace retirees, including the vacancy created by promotions behind Chief Sobb's retirement.

"I'm very fortunate that the city administration started hiring already, so we can train before the others leave. We'll have a gradual transition," the new chief said, noting that four of five newcomers already hired have experience with other departments.

Chief Rhodus said his two initial command goals are increasing his department's street-patrol manpower and curbing overtime expenses.

"The economy being the way it is requires great fiscal care," he said.

"I'm going to evaluate all the programs we are doing to make sure we still need them, to make sure they're still effective."

But the chief also said that community awareness programs such as Safe-T-City and DARE are important opportunities for the public to interact with police in a nonenforcement setting.

"This is a wonderful community to live and raise your family in," Chief Rhodus said.

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