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Published: Friday, 6/18/2010

Toledo Police sergeant calls it quits after 34 years

BY SARAH MERVOSH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sgt. Sam Harris, in his office, says that after 34 years on the force, he's found that treating people fairly is key to cooperation. Sgt. Sam Harris, in his office, says that after 34 years on the force, he's found that treating people fairly is key to cooperation.
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Toledo Police Sgt. Sam Harris said he often runs into people he's arrested after they are released from prison.

"Bars, restaurants, shopping centers," he said. "My daughters get a kick out of it. We'll be out somewhere and somebody will say hi to me and they'll say, 'Let me guess. That's somebody you arrested.'•"

Sergeant Harris, 56, who will retire from the police force Friday, said years of experience have shown him that treating everyone - victim or suspect - fairly is the key to cooperation.

"If you treat everybody fairly and you're pretty honest with them, they usually know what they've done," he said. "I still see them throughout the years and there is little or no animosity."

In his 34 years on the force, Sergeant Harris has done it all: From meeting celebrities such as Arnold Palmer and President Obama to working undercover and making drug busts, he said he has enjoyed coming to work almost every day of his career.

For the last five years, Sergeant Harris was supervisor of the special victims unit, which handles sex crimes such as a recent case in which a woman was raped on a West Toledo street in broad daylight.

But he has worked at almost every position in the department - from field operations to the metro drug unit to investigative services.

Sergeant Harris considers his time as a young officer in the metro drug unit the most exciting of his career.

He went undercover to buy drugs, sometimes maintaining a long-term relationship with the dealer and other times only gathering enough information to make an arrest.

"It was like in the Miami Vice [TV show] days. It was like cops and robbers every day," he said. "It was a good job for a young policeman."

But the most rewarding experience has been his work in the special victims unit because sex offenders generally get severe sentences - 40 years to a life sentence in prison.

"Quite frankly, most of the people that are suspects here are kind of dirt bags. You feel good being able to put people away for an extended period of time," he said.

Police Chief Mike Navarre said that Sergeant Harris has had a great career in the department and did an exceptional job in his most recent job assignment, with its many challenging and delicate situations.

"It really takes a person with extraordinary patience and know-how," Chief Navarre said.

"We hate to lose him. If you talk to anyone in the police department or prosecutor's office, you would hear nothing but positive things about Sam."

Despite spending decades with the department, Sergeant Harris didn't always plan to be a policeman. In fact, he was a senior in college pursuing a degree in sociology and journalism when he took the test.

"I went with some friends to take the test, just kind of on a whim to go along with them," he said.

"I was the only one out of the three or four of them that did become a policeman."

He was offered a position shortly after his father died, during a time when he could use a job, so he took it.

Sergeant Harris said he eventually would have realized being a police officer was the career for him, but the help of two mentors sped up the process.

Working with Jack Smith and Jim Jones, two experienced officers who since have retired, helped Sergeant Harris learn the trade and propelled him into the career he wraps up Friday.

He said he hopes he had the same impact on others his two mentors had on him, and he had a piece of advice to younger officers: Keep a journal.

"You see so many strange and bizarre things. It's too much to remember as time goes by," he said. "Just when you think you've seen everything, you realize you haven't."

As his mentors promised, he said, he simply knew when it was time to move on.

After retirement, he plans to work part-time for the Lucas County Adult Probation Department and spend more time with his two teenage daughters.

"Whether they like it or not," the sergeant added with a smile.

Contact Sarah Mervosh at:

smervosh@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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