Spencer reaches dream, now living it

When Gary Spencer became a Bowling Green police officer in May 1981, he told the chief he wanted his job someday.

On July 3, Spencer got his wish.

After 25 years with the department, including two years as operations bureau commander and five years as deputy chief, Spencer became chief of the Bowling Green Police Division.

The job has been a humbling honor so far, he said.

“I can’t say anymore, ‘Ask the chief,’ because I am the chief,” Spencer said.

As chief, he oversees all division operations including training, recruiting, crime prevention and accreditation. He also represents the city police on local committees and at community gatherings.

Mayor John Quinn, who appointed Spencer to the position, said he’s happy with the way the new chief leads the division.

“His temperament is excellent for being a police chief,” Quinn said. “He can be friendly and understanding but tough when he needs to be tough.”

Deputy chief Brad Conner , who was also promoted last month, said Spencer’s leadership style can be attributed to his military experience.

Before becoming an officer, Spencer was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and served two separate tours. He spent a year at BGSU before deciding to join the military instead.

“He’s a man with a lot of integrity,” Conner said. “He’s a man who demands excellence from the organization and service of the community but at the same time can be very supportive of the officers.”

John Fawcett, the city municipal administrator, said he’s always been impressed with Spencer’s determination and ethics.

“I think he sets a great example to all officers,” he said.

Still, Spencer isn’t the stereotypical retired military man, Conner said.

He’s made cherry pie and pheasant for Conner and his wife when they’ve visited his home.

“He’s a very good cook,” Conner said.

But life as a police officer hasn’t always been easy for Spencer.

“To me the hardest thing a police officer has to do is death notification, especially for a young person,” he said.

During his career, he said he’s made roughly 10 to 15 death notifications.

One Halloween during the 1990s, Spencer had to contend with two deaths in one night.

An intoxicated freshman girl died after running into a train on Ridge Street and Spencer was obligated to inform her parents in Dayton. The same night, a Bowling Green man committed suicide and Spencer was sent to notify relatives.

Despite situations like these, Spencer said he enjoys being able to improve the quality of life in the community and respects the responsibilities his job entails.

“We’re the only job that can take away your freedom,” Spencer said. “That’s an awesome responsibility.”

Former Police Chief Tom Votava, who served in the position from April 1997 until July 2, said he has total confidence in Spencer’s ability to lead the BGPD.

“I think he’s going to do an excellent job for the community,” Votava said.

And Jim Wegan, BGSU’s chief of police, said the mayor made the correct decision when he chose Spencer as the new city police chief.

The chiefs have already gone to breakfast together and discussed ways for the city and University police to work together.

Spencer said he’s happy both departments collaborate so well but wishes students would understand officers are trying to keep them safe.

“My officers don’t have time to drive around and ruin people’s days,” he said.

And now that Spencer’s wish to be chief has been fulfilled, he finds himself overseeing 43 officers and 15 other police division employees.

His family – wife Barbara and two grown children who reside in other cities – are proud of his new position, he said.

When he’s not at the police station, Spencer said he visits his children and goes golfing.

When he is at the station, he hopes Bowling Green citizens remember that he and the rest of the division are doing their best to improve the community.

“People have to understand we’re human beings,” he said. “We have emotions and we’re trying to do the best that we can.”