After graduating from Miami Trace High School in 1979, Jon Long didn’t have a clear plan for his future. But in the summer of 1980, the course of his professional life began to take shape.
“I became friends with some of the officers here in Washington Court House and at that time, you could say to them, ‘Mind if I ride with you?’ And then you’d jump in the cruiser and take off. There were no restrictions at all,” Long said. “I remember the first night I rode in a police cruiser with an officer, I was hooked.”
These experiences were the genesis of what has become a long and distinguished career in law enforcement with the Washington Court House Police Department. Now after 36 years and three months of protecting and serving this community, helping to make impactful changes within the department that will have long-term benefits, cultivating countless meaningful relationships, influencing his peers and doing all of this with unquestioned integrity, Long has retired from the department he loves.
“Looking back, I think that I’m retiring in the best possible position that I could ever be in,” Long said during an interview last Wednesday, his second-to-last day at the department. “This was a perfect fit for me because in our agency in particular, our officers do everything. In larger agencies, those officers will typically specialize or be assigned to do one thing. So diversity is definitely seen in this department.”
Long’s diverse experiences began with getting his foot in the door of the police department in 1980.
“My uncle, Charlie, retired from the police in 1980 and in the fall of that same year, there were two vacancies becoming available in dispatch,” said Long, who tested for one of those positions, was hired and began employment with the Washington Police Department as a jailer/dispatcher Jan. 2, 1981.
Long said he enjoyed his time as a dispatcher, however his goal was always to be a police officer on the street. In 1984, he attended a basic peace officer training academy hosted by the Washington Police Department. From that academy, Long received a peace officer’s training certificate.
“I continued to dispatch until I tested for and was offered a patrol officer position,” Long said. “It was in January of ‘88 and I worked patrol from January until April, and then I started at the Highway Patrol Academy in April. So I worked for four months on patrol before I went to the Highway Patrol Academy and graduated from there in July of 1988.”
As Long’s career continued to blossom, always in the back of his mind were the heartening words of one of his police chiefs, Bill Robinson.
“He told me that someday he envisioned me being police chief,” Long said. “So he must have seen something in me.”
During his tenure, Long experienced the entire spectrum of duties and responsibilities within the department, which prepared him for a series of promotions. “I attended basic narcotics investigations and was a firearms instructor,” he said. “I think I have done just about every job there is to do within the police department with the exception of K-9 handler. I really can’t say that one aspect of the job impressed me more than the others. For different reasons, I enjoyed all of them. But there comes a point where you know you’re ready for a promotion and something different.”
That time came on June 2, 1995 when Long was promoted to police sergeant. He was again promoted on July 28, 2006 to the rank of lieutenant.
“The lieutenant promotion came after a competitive exam and assessment, as well as a panel interview,” said Long. “When I was promoted, we had a second lieutenant, Jeff Ruth. He was the administrative lieutenant and he was also in charge of the detectives. When he retired in August of 2014, the chief and I split his responsibilities, which put me in charge of the detectives, patrol operations and communications.”
One aspect of heading up communications is dealing with the media, which Long said has generally been a positive experience.
“Once I gained a better understanding as what it was the media was trying to accomplish, then it allowed me to divulge information to help them do their jobs and at the same time protect the integrity of an ongoing criminal or internal investigation,” he said.
Long worked under five police chiefs during his tenure, Rodman Scott, Bill Robinson, Larry Walker, Larry Mongold and the current chief, Brian Hottinger. The mutual respect and appreciation between Long and Hottinger is evident when speaking with the two men.
“Brian taught me how to be patient,” Long said. “I understood my role was to support him and advise him, and make sure that the best interests of the department were maintained. Of course, we often discussed policies and procedures. We may on the rare occasion have disagreed on some things. But he said whatever he felt like, I said whatever I felt like and that was it.”
Hottinger, who was hired into the department over 29 years ago and has worked alongside Long the entire time, said Long is leaving a lasting legacy on the Washington Police Department.
“He has done things over the years that will leave a mark on this department for many years to come,” Hottinger said. “We didn’t always see eye to eye on everything. But during disagreements, we sat down and discussed them openly. There were no grudges, it was business. I’ve learned a lot from him and I couldn’t replace someone like him.”
Although it can be difficult to persuade Long to take credit for accomplishments within the department, he reluctantly did discuss the topic.
“I can’t take credit for much of anything because anything good that’s happened is a result of a team effort as opposed to an individual effort,” he said. “One of my bigger accomplishments was applying and being awarded a grant for MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) radios for the department in 2012. It allows interoperability between local police, fire, EMS, hospital and health department in the event of a regional, statewide or national disaster. Also, obviously our new police station was a major accomplishment, but that was a concerted effort from a lot of the officers.”
Overall, Long said he’s “exuberant” with the current state of the police department.
“Because of our citizens passing the tax levy in 2015, we’ve been able to hire new patrol officers and purchase necessary equipment,” Long said. “For the first year, we’re starting to send officers to more training than what is mandated by the state. The downside of that is I won’t be there to see it through. We have some very qualified, energetic and enthusiastic young officers who will do well in their careers. The future is bright. I’ll be back to visit…this is something you don’t just completely walk away from.”
Walking away from the police department is a bittersweet circumstance for Long. Due to his retirement option plan, Long’s hand was forced.
“Several years ago, the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund implemented a program that is very popular across the country,” he said. “It’s the DROP program, a deferred retirement option plan. Then you had to have your 25 years of service and be 48 or older. So I had my 25 years and when I turned 48 I enrolled in the DROP. You can only stay in the DROP for eight years. So I’m reaching the maximum term permitted under DROP. So in that sense, I have to retire. If you stay one day beyond, you lose all of your accumulated monetary benefits and that’s a substantial sum of money.”
Long added that if it wasn’t for the DROP, he would stay with the Washington Police Department for several more years. However, his career in law enforcement may have more chapters remaining.
“I still enjoy what I do, I’m comfortable in my ability,” he said. “Under the rules of police and fire, I have to sit out for 60 days before I’m eligible to reenter employment in another job that has a publicly-funded retirement system. And I have already had interviews with administrators at another agency for a position that’s commensurate with my training, experience and ability.”
At the Washington Police Department, Russel (Rusty) Lowe has assumed Long’s responsibilities as lieutenant. Hottinger said it’s been a smooth transition.
“We’ve added eight officers in the past year,” Hottinger said. “It takes a year to 18 months of training after they’re turned loose on their own for them to be considered proficient. So we really want to get those new officers up and running and proficient, and stabilize our street presence before I worry about stabilizing or increasing our administrative presence. Rusty got promoted 60 days early so he could work with Jon and have a smooth transition from Jon to Rusty.”
Long said of Lowe: “Rusty was obviously the top candidate and he got the promotion. I think he will do an exceptional job of taking over my duties and responsibilities, and in seeing that the department continues in the appropriate direction. I wish him well and told him that if he needs anything, please call me.”
Whether Long’s law enforcement career resumes in the near future or not, he has plans to travel.
“In my spare time I like to travel to the Caribbean,” he said. “I’ve vacationed in the majority of the islands from the Turks and Caicos south to St. Lucia. And I have no plan on stopping that trend.”
Long said he also looks forward to spending time with his wife, Randa, and his beloved standard poodle, Cameo.
“I am extremely grateful for Randa’s support of me during the highs and lows at the department and through my three cancer diagnoses and treatments,” Long said. “I am cancer-free for five-and-a-half years and should remain so for the foreseeable future. Her support throughout means so much.”
As his final day at the Washington Police Department was coming to a close last Thursday, Long had one final message to convey: “I enjoy solace in knowing that blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God and that I am still a member of the greatest fraternity the world has ever known.”
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica.