Ronald B. Schwartz

Baltimore County Police Maj. Ronald B. Schwartz, 64, stands next to his 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger 340, which he bought in 1970 for $3,000. He drove it to his first job in the Baltimore County Police Department in April 1970 and drove home in it on Friday, his last day, retiring after 41 years on the force. (Peter Hermann, Baltimore Sun / December 30, 2011)

Ronald B. Schwartz went out the way he came in — behind the wheel of a blue 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger.

The 64-year-old retired on Friday as a major with the Baltimore County Police Department, having spent more than four decades working himself up the ranks, from walking a midnight beat on Reisterstown Road to running the training academy.

Schwartz joined the Police Department on April 1, 1970, and drove himself to his precinct in Garrison in the Dodge. He still has the car — fully restored and worth eight times the $3,000 it cost new off the lot — and thought it only fitting that he drive it home on his last day.

"It's an end of an era," Schwartz said while proudly showing off his car in front of the police headquarters building in Towson. Until Friday, he was the department's longest-serving officer. "It's on to a new adventure," he said.

The car, much like Schwartz, is functional, no-frills. Sure, the retired cop has stories to tell about chasing gunmen and facing down criminals. But asked to recall his most exciting moment in 41 years of policing, he described closing a string of a dozen burglaries in Parkville.

"What really stands out is what you do for people," Schwartz said.

His photo appeared just twice in the newspaper — standing amid wooden beams for a new precinct in Parkville, and helping children shop for Christmas toys. His name is mentioned a few times in a police blotter here and there, but otherwise he stayed in the background.

He joined the force only after being impressed watching another officer help somebody at a party he attended. A graduate of Baltimore's Mergenthaler Vocational Technical School, he had worked in quality control at Bendix and installed automatic pay machines at toll booths.

"I never had a clue about becoming a cop," he said

Also, like his car, Schwartz stands out in his own way. He's far from flashy — though he did add an FM radio to the car and confesses to using an iPod — but he was held in high regard by police and the citizens he served.

"He's steady, predictable," said Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson, one of six chiefs Schwartz worked for (he also counts six county executives). Johnson has a special relationship with the retiree — Schwartz was his boss in the early 1980s.

Schwartz was a sergeant in the Essex precinct and Johnson was a patrol cop a few years out of the academy. Over the years, the chief watched his former supervisor move up and around the department — from beat cop to running a district, heading up community policing and overseeing the academy. He built police athletic league centers and oversaw construction of station houses.

"He rendered a tremendous amount of service to the citizens," Johnson said, calling Schwartz an "ethical, by-the-book cop" who "when he told you the right way to do something, you could take that to the bank."

As Johnson talked, he said he could look out of his office window and see Schwartz's car, which became a spectacle on a quiet Friday before a holiday. Capt. Douglas Irwin said he heard the engine purring from his office and ran downstairs.

"I just came down to admire the car and the person driving it," said Irwin, who works in internal affairs.

The captain, coffee cup in hand, peered under the hood and engaged Schwartz with a long line of questions, indecipherable to anyone but a car buff. They compared model years and talked about parts, restoration and mileage.

Schwartz, a practical man, said the car was an expensive investment back in 1970 — starting salary for a county cop then was $7,200 a year, and he took out a three-year loan to pay it off. He retires with a salary of $163,400, not including a lucrative retirement payout from a county program set up to retain older officers.

For a long time, the Dodge was his only car. He and his wife, Barbara — he's been with her 45 years, slightly longer than the Dodge — took it on trips, including a jaunt to Niagara Falls, and his two daughters used it to drive to school.

"It was the family car," said Schwartz. It now has about 128,000 miles on the odometer and is driven on special occasions and to car shows. His grandson has already spoken for it.

Policing has changed since Schwartz joined the force, mostly in terms of technology. His first patrol car was much like the Dodge — with only an electric siren mounted to the hood and a single bubble light on top. Now, patrol cars, he said, "might as well be spaceships."

Schwartz has lived in Parkville since he joined the police force. His happiest moments were patrolling his neighborhood. "I can feel their pain when something happens," he said. "That's what the job is, working and protecting my own community."

After 41 years, the retired major said, "I'm coming home."

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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