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Taking a closer look at the flashing lights

For the past 30 years, Lt. Ken Fortney has been a staple of the Bowling Green Police Division. He has spent countless hours digging up investigations and coordinating training activities, as well as patrolling the streets of the city on a nightly basis. ‘ But for the officers Fortney has spent every day with since 1979, he is more than the epitome of an outstanding policeman. Instead, his reputation as a soldier, a prankster and a family-man follow him wherever he goes. And for Fortney’s family members and close colleagues, these qualities are what make him one of the most well-known and respected citizens in the community.’ ‘I’ve had more than one person in the law enforcement family come to me and tell me, ‘Wow, you’re dealing with a great guy,” Fortney’s wife, Pam, said. ‘He is well known in this town by young people and old people, and in a small town, it’s cool that he can touch so many people’s lives.’ Fortney never saw himself working as a police officer when he was growing up only 15 miles away from Bowling Green in Grand Rapids, Ohio. Instead, the athletic and outgoing teen decided he wanted to be a teacher and high school coach so he could pursue his passion for sports even off the field. But Fortney’s career path changed dramatically after he was drafted into the Army in June of 1972, where he would spend three years as a military policeman in Germany. As an overseas policeman, Fortney said some of his main responsibilities included patrolling the army bases in Wurzburg, as well as working hand-in-hand with German officers. ‘It was a unique experience working with the German police because they were a no-nonsense paramilitary organization,’ Fortney said. ‘They would place you under arrest in a second, there were no second chances. They didn’t take no for an answer.” But even after spending three years as a police officer, Fortney said when he returned home to Grand Rapids in 1975, he was still set on becoming a sports coach. It wasn’t until he heard about a police entry exam being offered in Bowling Green that he decided to give the career a try- and landed the job.’ ‘ ‘ ‘The training I went through wasn’t a mirror of what I received in the army, but it was similar,’ Fortney said. ‘As soon as I was determined knowledgeable enough to be on my own, I was put on the street on my own.’ Over the next several years, Fortney’s image as a hard-working and dedicated officer would continue to grow. In 1997, he would be promoted to a sergeant, and in 2002, he would once again be promoted to a lieutenant. Lt. Tony Hetrick, who has worked with Fortney since being hired in 1996, said Fortney’s transparency throughout his career has made him a valuable decision-maker within the station. ‘I have worked with him at all levels and he’s always exhibited [honesty and integrity],’ Hetrick said. ‘He always said our job was not to get convictions, but to find the truth.” And though he would conquer multiple facets of police work, including working as a detective sergeant, administrative bureau lieutenant and a services bureau lieutenant, Fortney said his most memorable position was working as an investigative detective. ‘If I look back over my whole career, the time I enjoyed the most was in investigations because of the challenges it presented,’ he said. ‘The high profile rape and murder cases, although they were the most challenging, were the most rewarding in the end when [the criminal] was caught.’ And though Fortney said some investigations could leave him feeling upset, he learned to turn to his sense of humor to take away from some of the hanging, negative feelings that go hand-in-hand with the job. ‘It’s important, because if you take this job too seriously, it will eat you from the inside out,’ Fortney said. ‘When you’re dealing with the tough cases, a sense of humor allows you to make it through the case without letting it eat away at you.’ And while his fellow officers may agree with him, they know to watch out for Fortney’s pranks as well- a trait he has become notorious for at the station. Hetrick, who said Fortney’s light-hearted nature also allows him to know how to talk to people, explained that nothing is off-limits for Fortney when it comes to pranks. ‘He always looks for the humor in things, and really gets along with everyone,’ Hetrick said. ‘He knows how to get people going, that’s for sure.’ And though Fortney brings his humor home as well, Pam said he is always serious when it comes to his family, and specifically his boys. According to her, Fortney’s three sons look up to him as a role model and always feel comfortable coming to him for advice. ‘His boys are his focus, and he is always happy when he is with them,’ she said. Fortney even went so far as to build a baseball diamond near his home so his sons and their friends could practice with him. ‘He has always, particularly with sports, been there for his boys,’ Hetrick said. ‘He has impacted them in a positive way, along with a lot of other people.’ And though every aspect of Fortney’s life has contributed to his success as an officer, he knows his retirement from the career that has been a part of his life for so long is eminent. ‘We’re approaching the time when retirement is in the picture, and I hope I can enjoy life and not have to work to hard when the time comes,’ Fortney said. ‘My ideal job [after retirement] would be to mow grass at a golf course and play for free.’

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