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by mike lesko | Reporter
Aurora -- Seth Riewaldt admits he did not become police chief by accident.
"Soon after I was hired, I had my sights set on becoming chief," he said.
Riewaldt, who is the longest serving police officer in the city's history -- it will officially be 35 years at the end of May -- will retire in June -- "no later than July 1," he said. He said he has no firm retirement plans.
Riewaldt, who has been chief for 12 years, is the longest serving police chief in the history of Aurora.
The road to becoming a police officer, let alone chief, was a long one.
A criminal justice major at Kent State University, Riewaldt was part of KSU's volunteer ambulance service. Another volunteer, Bob Peabody, was the Aurora police records clerk. He suggested to Riewaldt that he apply with the local department.
So Riewaldt latched on as an Aurora police dispatcher.
"When the 911 phone rings, it's all on you to respond appropriately," he said.
The dispatching job gave him a chance to see if liked the law enforcement field. And he did.
That first summer -- 1979 -- Riewaldt began bugging the police chief to send him to a police academy, which required a sponsor in those days. After being accepted, he started at the police academy that fall.
His daily routine was not easy. After working the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the police station, he would stock shelves at a local department store, go home and sleep for a few hours, then attend the academy in the evening, for six months.
"IT DIDN'T seem like that long of a day, though, because that's what I wanted to do," he said, referring to becoming a police officer.
Riewaldt was focused on his goal. He had the same thought process as an officer as he did as a volunteer with the ambulance service.
"We didn't want anyone to get hurt," he said. "But if it's going to happen -- and it's inevitable that it will -- I wanted it to happen on my shift. Every police call was a test of skills, patience and humanity."
Riewaldt was promoted to sergeant in 1989. "The afternoon shift was certainly a test of your ability," he said. "There was a lot of activity, and it was just you, as a sergeant, and your team. Geauga Lake and Sea World were in full swing. There was a lot happening."
When he was promoted to lieutenant in 1997, his duties changed more toward the administrative side. That became even more true when he became chief in 2003.
"As chief, I am an administrator," he said. "It's like I run a business with 46 employees. The biggest challenge is getting things done through other people -- when you're not standing next to them. That's what I have enjoyed the most."
About six years ago, Riewaldt was much more than an administrator. He shot and killed a man who was facing possible rape charges -- after the suspect shot at him first at close range. Riewaldt was uninjured.
As a police officer, Riewaldt worked for nine mayors, and he's worked for three as chief -- Lynn McGill, James Fisher and Ann Womer Benjamin. "They've all been very supportive," he said.
"Generally, the community has been very supportive," he said. "That's been very gratifying."
WOMER BENJAMIN said Riewaldt "has served his community with distinction and honor for 35 years."
"He takes his responsibilities seriously, recognizing the importance of crime prevention and community outreach to law enforcement," she said.
She said when Riewaldt was selected as chief in 2003, he finished at the top of the list of 16 applicants for the position.
"I've found him to be serious and responsive, while carefully assessing situations and risk in an intelligent, thoughtful and professional manner," she said.
"In four short months, I have come to rely on his expertise, combined with his deep affinity for Aurora, as we continue our work to ensure Aurora is safe and secure."
Riewaldt created the department's Community Enhancement Team, a division of three officers assigned to address concerns of residents and business owners; a police K-9 unit; and the school resource officer program.
Riewaldt, who grew up in Brecksville, said his first exposure to the law enforcement field came in Boy Scout Explorers. "That pointed me in the direction of law enforcement," he said.
The late Ed Zamiska, a former Broadview Heights police chief, "was one man who was particularly influential," he said. "He was laid-back and kind, but he could be tough. He was a mentor to me."
Now, looking back, it is hard for Riewaldt, 57, to believe the time has gone by so fast. Yet he has no regrets.
"What can you regret?" he said. "I've done every job [in the police department]. I graduated from the FBI academy. I've either hired or trained most everyone here."
And he's been lucky enough to work in Aurora. "It's a great city," he said.
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC