April 30, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Even after he puts away his uniform— for the second time— Jim Leach will forever be known as "Chief" to the Lake Orion Police Department.
Leach "retired from it all" on Wednesday, April 30, after his midnight shift, not to be confused with his previous retirement April 30, 2001.
"I've been to the top. I would now like to get back to the streets for the people," he wrote in his application letter to Chief Jerry Narsh asking to be hired back part time January 8, 2003.
"He got tired of watching Gilligan's Island reruns," LOPD Chief Jerry Narsh said, who awarded him a "citation" certificate for 55 years at the village council meeting Monday night.
It's all he has ever known, the police department that is.
Leach has been with the LOPD for 55 years, 19 years as chief, never once considering moving out.
"It's hard to do this," Leach explained about his true retirement. "You know most of the people you see. You are there to help them whenever they need it, and that's the most rewarding," he said.
April 30 is Leach's mother's birthday.
"My mother always wanted me to be the chief," he said. "She would go to the council meetings, her friends too, promoting me."
But it wasn't always that way. At the beginning, back in 1959, Leach's parents were against him leaving Turner Steel where his father also worked.
But as the years grew on so did his parents' fondness for the job, and Leach climbed higher and higher in the ranks.
He began as an auxiliary police officer in 1959 when Neal Leonard was chief. By 1965 Leonard called and asked if Leach would like to be a fulltime patrolman, which he jumped at on March 1, 1965.
In 1971 Leach became lieutenant and was acting chief several times, but he could not be chief unless he had a bachelor's degree.
Leach didn't waste any time. He earned two associates degrees from Oakland University and a bachelor's degree in law enforcement from Madonna University before officially accepting the position April 18, 1982.
When the department came knocking on his door offering the position, at first Leach declined.
His mother had passed away the day before.
"It was a hard time right then," he said.
Three months later he was Chief Leach.
From there on out, Leach built his foundation, his reserve program and his memories.
"I'm very proud of the fact that I've had officers start out as reserves and I put them through the academy and they've spread out all over," Leach said.
"If we couldn't hire everybody, we'd put him or her on as part-time. When they got the bug, it's the same bug I got. When you want to be a policeman that is it."
Leach used to chair a reserve program where 30 to 40 people would come to his class for 16 weeks and at the end apply in front of the council to become a reserve. The last class he put on was in 2006. Chief Narsh plans to hold another this year.
Leach remembers when the cottages on Lake Orion filled and emptied for summer and winter and how no one ever locked their doors, let alone dead-bolted them.
He remembers searching for a coat that was stolen from the youth center at the old Wagon Wheel tavern, and helping the General Federation of Women's Clubs Lake Orion teach the "Don't Talk to Strangers" program to elementary school students.
When the Whiskey's Steakhouse was up and running, Leach recalls a young girl that was attacked in the parking lot, who came to the LOPD nude after being assaulted.
"The officer took care of her, wrapped her up in a coat, got her to the hospital and arrested the guy," Leach said. "They could find him that quick."
He remembered being called to Bellevue Island for a woman who was in labor and couldn't afford an ambulance. Leach took her to the hospital just in time for the baby to be born.
Sadly, a month later, he was called back to the same house.
She found her baby had died, crib death, Leach said.
"I'll never forget the mother. I just grabbed and hugged her and we both stood there and cried. That was the hardest thing to know that I was there when we brought that baby into the world and now that baby was gone," he said.
Back in 1967 Leach was sent to breathalyzer school' in Lansing, the first of the LOPD to attain their breathalyzer certification.
In October of 1967 the legal limit was 0.15.
"Halloween night we had five drunk driving arrests and every one of those drunks would not take a test so that just upset me to no end," Leach said. "Back then they didn't have to so much as they do now. Now they suspend your license and you get six points if you don't take the breath test. Isn't that something?"
In all the years Leach has learned to always carry a flashlight, day or night.
He remembered to always carry one after being sent to check on a dead body during the day. He arrived at the house, couldn't find the light switch and fumbled around the room in the dark. From then on he has carried a flashlight strapped to his waist.
In 55 years, Leach worked only four murders, and every suspect was caught. He has been "egged" for being the local cop, and has seen Lake Orion grow from a small-town place to a bustling community.
"In the 1960s I think we had a better relationship with everybody. It was the community then that was older and they knew their place, and they knew everybody, " Leach said. "You just seemed to know the people better, and the people really respected you more back then— not the young kids—but the people did. We've lost that generation of people – so it's changed."
But Leach wouldn't trade it for anything.
"This has been a great, great community. The village here has always been an outstanding place. I was born in a house on N. Broadway, been a member of the churches, the Lions Club, the Knights of Columbus, and all that. This community is always moving forward," Leach said.
"It's just amazing how great it is. I love Lake Orion. I love my police department. It's just time for me to say it's all over."
"When he first came on, I think M-24 was a path," Narsh said. "Hundreds of officers have come through this department and Jim was their law enforcement father. He was mine, and still is."
Chief Narsh said the biggest thing he learned from Leach was the value of community policing.
"How important it is treating people, knowing your community and meeting the needs of every resident," Narsh said. "Jim taught me to love the town, love the job and love the people in it. You have to be willing to lay down your life at any minute for anybody in this town. That's the baton I'm constantly trying to pass to my men and women today."