After 34 years with the Bowling Green Police Division, including 4.5 of them as chief, Brad Conner has stepped down and is looking forward to a new adventure.
“I’ve been blessed for the last 34 years,” said Conner, who officially retired from the BGPD on June 12. “This is all I’ve done since the age of 19 and it’s been a great career. I’ve loved every minute of it. ... I’m going to miss it, I miss it already. And heck, I’ve only been gone a couple weeks.”
Originally from Lima, Conner was no stranger to law enforcement and the men and women who serve in its ranks growing up. His mother was a full-time police dispatcher for the Shawnee Township Police Department, and his father was a part-time officer for the village of Fort Shawnee in Allen County.
“Folks were always at our house that worked for the police department, and it’s something I’ve always been around. I found it exciting, I found it rewarding. I used to get a chance to ride with the officers,” especially on Halloween to help pass out candy.
After graduating from Lima Shawnee High School in 1977 and attending the former Lima Technical College, now Rhodes State College, he earned his associate degree in criminal justice and began working with the Fort Shawnee Police Department at 19.
He began working at BGPD on June 1, 1981. He would later earn a bachelor’s degree from Bowling Green State University in criminal justice while working full time, and subsequently earned a master’s of public administration, also from BGSU.
Conner said police in Bowling Green during the 1980s dealt with incidents including large, out-of-hand parties such as Merry Mania, Frazee Frenzy and Manville Madness, the last of which, according to contemporary media accounts, drew thousands of revelers and ended with damage, multiple arrests and injuries to BG fire personnel and police officers in 1984.
“It seems like, as I think back, it seems like we were much busier,” Conner recalled. “And that’s not to take anything away from” current officers.
“We’d have people handcuffed to benches and chairs waiting in line to do the paperwork. It just seems there was a lot of activity.”
Conner gave credit to former Police Chief Galen Ash for having a greater vision of professionalism for the force.
“We’re accredited, as you know. We’ve been accredited for 20 years, and that started under Galen’s watch,” Conner said, saying that Ash helped put in place policies, practices and procedures that were professional standards, “and I think it helped us get in the right direction” to where the department is today.
He said that in 1991, when he and Gary Spencer were promoted to sergeant, they “recognized that we could be a better agency than we were” and made a commitment to work toward changes.
The early 1990s, he said, “is when you started seeing some things change ... as far as expectations of personnel to, I guess, be more responsive to the community, and we saw some changes there. And I think if you look now, across the nation there’s a lot of agencies that still haven’t gotten that message. You need to have the relationship, you need to have the partnership with your community.”
He also said that beginning with Ash and then Chief Thomas Votava, “trying to prepare the agency’s leadership for the future” became a focus. “So education would be a big part of that, as far as changes. Moving toward more emphasis on education.”
That carries through today, he said, with BGPD officers and administrators having graduated from a variety of institutes and received certifications furthering their professional development.
Conner recalled major cases he worked on during his tenure, including the sexual assault and murder of Alex Limegruber, a 3-year-old, by John Umbel, who was convicted in 1993 and is serving a sentence of 60 years to life in prison; and the 1996 murder of Julie Kane by Craig Baker, who is serving a sentence of 15 years to life.
Conner said he recalled working on hundreds of drug cases, “and I had the opportunity to work narcotics while was over there,” going undercover with other agencies to make drug buys with a beard, long hair and earrings.
“I just had a lot of opportunities, I’ve just had a lot of things come my way. ... Had I gone to a larger agency, that would not have happened.”
In fact, Conner said, at one point he planned to join the Toledo Police Department and was accepted into its academy; however, the officer who did his final interview asked him, noting that he had opportunities with Bowling Green, why he wanted to leave.
“He made me go home and reflect on what I was trying to do,” and Conner ultimately decided to stay in Bowling Green.
“As I look back, that was the best move I could have possibly made.”
Starting Monday, Conner will begin a new assignment as administrative director of security for Promedica in Ohio and Michigan, responsible for overseeing their security operations at hospitals and other sites.
“I’m very excited about it. I look at it as a new beginning. This is a brand new, newly-created position. I get a chance to have my hands in building something new,” he said.
Conner lauded Bowling Green, both the city and its people.
“To live and work in a community like Bowling Green,” and to have the support from citizens, city council, staff, the mayor and Municipal Administrator John Fawcett, “it’s been very rewarding and I’ve been blessed.”