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Police chief receives community accolades as retirement looms

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By William Carroll

 

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On Thursday, July 31 Taylorsville Police Chief Toby Lewis will don his city uniform for the last time as he finishes a nine year career as the city’s police chief. The move will not be without some sadness on the part of Lewis.
“I’ll miss it, I’ll miss working with the people. I’ll miss working with the schools,” Lewis said. “It is time to move on, time for someone new to do this job.”
On December 18, 2013, the Taylorsville City Commission voted 3-0 to approve an agreement whereby they would buyback 59 months of Lewis’ retirement effective at the beginning of this fiscal year, which begins on July 1. After discussions with the Kentucky State Retirement system it was determined that July 31 would be Lewis’ last official day on the job.
With Lewis’ retirement, the city of Taylorsville is now well into a process to find the city’s next police chief.
Lewis’ police career dates back to 1989 when he accepted a job in Shelbyville working under Chief John Miller.
“Things were a lot different back then,” Lewis said. “A lot of the cars didn’t even have radar.”
Lewis said other things were different as well, in an age before computers became as commonplace as they are today, much of police work was done by requesting information through dispatch.
“We had to call in pretty much everything to dispatch in order to get information on plates, vehicles and warrant information,” Lewis said. “Now we have our own computers in the vehicles. Computers allow for instant access to information allowing you to do more on your own.”
Lewis was an officer in Shelbyville from 1989 to 1994 before taking a position with the Anchorage Police Department. In 1999 Lewis returned to Shelbyville where he stayed until he accepted the position of chief with the Taylorsville Police Department.
“Taylorsville has always been home,” Lewis said. “My father was a police officer in Taylorsville for years and years.”
Lewis said that his familiarity with the city has helped him some in his law enforcement duties.
“It does help to know everyone, it gives you something of an advantage,” Lewis said. “It definitely helps to know who lives here.”
During our interview, Lewis drove through several neighborhoods and provided information, not only on the neighborhoods themselves but on the residents who live there. At one point, Lewis noticed a door open at a home which is usually unoccupied during the day. Knowing the property Lewis quickly made a call to determine if there were any issues at the home. It is this type of personalized knowledge of the community Lewis has gained over the years.
“Sometimes knowing everyone can be a disadvantage,” Lewis said. “When it is a family you have known your whole life you have to be a little more tender in handling the situation.”
Lewis said this style of “community policing” is important for Taylorsville.
“We have a very good working relationship with the public,” Lewis said. “I feel that my primary job is to help people. If I can help change a life to make it better, I feel accomplished.”
During the tour of the city, Lewis stopped to speak briefly with those he has helped, the list included several people Lewis had arrested in the past for drug violations.
“We can’t stop the drug problem, but we can help individuals to point them in the right direction to help them get off of drugs.”
Including helping others, Lewis is proud of a number of accomplishments he has achieved while chief.
“During my tenure we moved from the old police station to our new facility, with the help of the (city) commission and Kentucky League of Cities,” he said. “Our old building had a number of sewage and electrical problems, our new building is much better.”
Lewis also touted the city’s P-25 radio system which was an upgrade from the department’s old analog system.
Lewis also pointed out that his department had received a number of vehicles at practically little or no cost to the city. The vehicles came to the department in significant part due to the unit’s close working relationship with several local agencies. Lewis said that his department works closely with federal authorities including immigration officials and the U.S. Marshall’s Office.
“We worked one investigation that resulted in the seizure of $300,000, a Humvee and a home,” he said. “From that the feds gave us money as an agency which we used to buy our 2004 Ford Explorer, weapons and 10 digital cameras, which are on loan to the Kentucky State Police.”
Lewis said his department also received two new vehicles due to his unit’s close working relationship with U.S. Marshall’s Office.
Other accomplishments listed by Lewis included the trust level local citizens have with the department.
“People believe in the agency so much that they give us tips and information.”
Lewis was also proud of the school resource officer program.
“We have a very successful SRO program,” he said. “Last year was the first year for our program and it has gone well so far.”
When asked about his replacement, Lewis did say that the department is facing some issues.
“Manpower is always an issue,” he said. “There are a lot of costs involved in running a department that the average person isn’t aware of. These costs include salaries, retirement, insurance, equipment and vehicles.”
Lewis said that since the new chief will probably not assume the position until after July 31, Lewis has prepared information to help the new chief acclimate to his or her surroundings.
“One of the things I have done is prepare an information sheet which includes technical issues,” Lewis said. “The new chief will come in knowing the police side, but will not be familiar with specific issues.”
According to Lewis these technical issues include the location of generators, water shut off valves and other local information about the community. Lewis said the department already has a list of those citizens in the community who are elderly.
“I just want to make sure the new chief has everything they need when they get here,” he said.
Even though Lewis is stepping down, don’t expect him to rest on his laurels anytime soon.
“I am currently looking at other opportunities,” Lewis said. “I am definitely not just going to sit at home during retirement.”
Wife Patsy Lewis said that there is no way her husband will sit around with nothing to do.
“Police work is in his blood,” she said. “I think it will be hard for him to get out of police work. He will take a breather at this point but then he will get back into it at some point.”
Mrs. Lewis said that the family is planning a short retirement vacation prior to the start of the school year.
“We still have one child in school,” she said. “We were planning a short vacation before school started and hopefully we will be able to get at least a week in.”
Mrs. Lewis said that the couple’s son, Nolan Lewis, 12, will be heading back to school this fall.
Patsy Lewis said that the decision to retire had been discussed by the couple for some time and that the timing was due more to convenience for the city and Toby than any other issue. Mrs. Lewis also said that she and her husband have received a huge public outpouring from residents sad to see Toby Lewis go.
“Everywhere we go people come up to him and tell them that he can’t leave and wanting to know who his replacement will be and whether they will be as good as Toby,” she said. “We hear it everywhere. They are happy for him, but at the same time they hate to see him go.”
Taylorsville Mayor Don Pay, who oversees the police department is one of those who would hate to see Lewis go.
“Toby Lewis is a community patriot,” Pay said. “The guy has been an ambassador of good will, not just for the city but for the whole community. He is definitely going to be missed.”
Pay said that what will be missed most of all is Lewis’ commitment to the citizens of Taylorsville.
“He is the first guy I call to solve problems,” Pay said. “Whenever there are families in need, he is aware of the problem and does what he can to help. He has given back to the community both on and off duty.”
Local business owner Mike Driscoll agreed with Pay’s assessment.
“We are definitely going to miss Toby,” Driscoll said. “He has meant a lot to the community.”
To outline what Lewis has meant to the community, Driscoll pointed out two specific situations.
“Toby brought in the Class-D felons to clean up town,” Driscoll said. “For instance they cleaned up the old cemetery in town; before they got up there it was in pretty bad shape and they brought it back. Also Toby Lewis and his wife pretty much revived homecoming in Taylorsville. Before they got involved we pretty much didn’t have a homecoming here.”
Driscoll added that Lewis is outstanding with kids in the community and does what he can to further community programs.
“He is a great guy,” said David Young, owner of the Tea Cup downtown. “He has done a lot for the community. Behind bringing workers in to clean things up. He has done a lot for downtown. Knows how to get the job done and how to treat people. Does everything you ask him to do. I’ve never heard him tell anyone no when they ask him to do something.”
Even Lewis’ employees will miss him.
“It is going to be a huge adjustment for the community when Toby leaves,” said Tammy Gaines, who has worked with Lewis for three and a half years. “Toby is great, he knows how to deal with people and families. He is great with the kids. He will be greatly missed.”
During the most recent Taylorsville City Commission meeting, Lewis took a few minutes to read a letter he had prepared and submitted to the commission regarding his retirement. During an attempt to read the letter, Lewis became choked up and was unable to continue to read the letter. During the nearly one minute of silence, several of the commissioners became visibly emotional regarding the chief’s impending retirement.
Commissioner Ellen Redmon said, “Toby I am going to hate to see you go. I still remember when I used to play with your sister when we were kids and you would chase after us, you couldn’t ever catch us back then.”
Several days after the meeting commissioner Kathy Spears added her thoughts on Lewis’ retirement.
“The city and its citizens will lose a very dedicated employee when Chief Lewis retires on July 31,” Spears said. “Toby has always gone above and beyond for the community. Working to make things like Octoberfest go off without a problem or finding grants to help save the department money, or working side by side with the Class Ds cleaning up the city. All while carrying out his police duties. He will be missed.”