After 30 years of service to the citizens of Westminster and Carroll County, Westminster Police Lt. Tony Ott has retired. More than 125 people crowded into the social hall at the New Windsor Fire & Hose Company No. 1 last Sunday, Jan. 27 to congratulate him for his accomplishments and wish him well as he begins a new chapter in his life.
Mark Maas, a former Westminster police officer and a childhood friend of Ott’s, was the master of ceremonies for the retirement event. After many years with the Westminster Police, Maas moved on to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police, where he retired.
Maas observed that it was remarkable how many active and retired police officers attended the retirement ceremony. Ott was well-liked and respected by citizens, elected and appointed officials, friends, family, and fellow police officers, many of whom showered him with gifts and accolades throughout the ceremonies.
Longtime friend and community leader Lori Graham recalled a number of stories from working with Ott over the past several decades. Today, we are “Celebrating a great man,” said Graham.
Lt. William Valentine of the Westminster Police Department presented Tony Ott with a gift at Ott’s retirement event. According to Valentine, “In the 30 years that Tony was with the department, I never heard anything negative about Tony from anyone.”
According to information provided by Westminster Police Chief Jeff Spaulding, “Tony was a little older than the norm when he joined the police department at 29 years old in 1988. As you might imagine, he had held several jobs prior to coming to the Police Department to include work in a flower shop at age 16 … and employment at Southern States.”
To put 1988 into some additional context, my wife’s dad, the late David S. Babylon Jr., was still on the Westminster Common Council when Ott was hired. Babylon always spoke highly of Ott. Babylon had first been elected in 1964 and served until he retired in 1989. For many of those years, Mr. Babylon served as the Common Council President.
In full disclosure, I have worked with Ott for over 20 years in various capacities, including that of a Westminster elected official, and I consider him to be a good friend. So, of course I am going to say nice things about him; especially since Ott has always shied away from too much attention and always tried to stay out of the spotlight. He will be unhappy that I have written about him. Oh well …
Westminster Common Council members Sam Greenholtz and Ken Hornberger also attended the retirement event. They were instrumental in hiring Ott back in 1988. This was in the days in which much of the hiring of city personnel — including police officers — was handled by the Common Council Members. There were approximately 21 sworn officers on the force in those days. Greenholtz served on the council from 1985-1991. Hornberger served from 1983-1991.
In 1988, the department was still using the Uniden portable radios, which were not replaced until 1998 when the department went to the new 800 MHz system — a 24-hour dispatch had only been in place since 1980.
When Ott was hired in 1988 the Westminster Police had only just added a K-9 unit after years of advocacy by Hornberger. The city had taken advantage of the recent use of electricity when the use of a computer was introduced to the department. According to a history of the department, “1986 brought about the ‘time saving’ computerization of all police statistical information so that this information could be easily accessible and recorded…”
In 1988 the department was located in the Longwell Municipal Center, which had been originally used by the National Guard as their armory. The department moved there in 1980, from its location in City Hall, where prisoners were often handcuffed to the radiators for safekeeping or stored in the basement.
The police offices in the basement of the Longwell building will be forever known as the worst location for a police department headquarters in the history of police in the western hemisphere. In those days, there was an active basketball recreational program in the old armory — so every visit to police headquarters resounded to the steady beat of basketballs bouncing on the floor above.
In November 1993, the department moved from its Longwell Municipal Center location to 36 Locust Street in Westminster. This location originally was the home of Westminster Auto Parts. The building was remodeled to accommodate the Westminster Police Department. Ott’s office was located approximately in the area where brake calipers were refinished.
In 1988 Chief Sam R. Leppo was the police chief. He had been appointed chief July 1, 1976. Chief Leppo served until his death from a traffic accident on August 4, 1999.
On September 13, 1999 Major Roger Joneckis was appointed the position as Chief of Police by Mayor Ken Yowan and the City Council. On August 1, 2003, Major Dean A. Brewer was appointed chief, and subsequently, Spaulding was appointed in December 2004.
That’s a lot of changes in one career.
Many agree with Spaulding’s observation that, “During his career, Tony was a ‘jack of all trades’ for the Police Department. Whatever needed to be done … he just jumped in to help out. No task was too difficult or complex.
“Tony was also tasked with the planning and management of all of the special events in the City,” according to Spaulding. “From walks, to parades, to demonstrations, to 5K runs through downtown — Tony planned them all … often having to deal with little to no notice and ‘less than realistic or cooperative’ organizers.”
With one exception. It was in the mid-2000s when a train tried to come through town in the middle of a parade. It was Westminster police volunteer Kenny Carlisle who was “there to stop the train cold in its tracks.”
Spaulding also reported that, “For a number of years Tony also served on or led the Crisis Negotiation Team for the county. … Tony’s personnel file is replete with an assortment of complementary letters from members of the community with whom he interacted during his 30 years with the Department. In reading through the many letters there are a number of common phrases like “kindness,” “compassion,” “patience,” and “helpful.” Tony clearly took pride in his work and it showed in the manner in which he conducted himself in the community.”
In prepared remarks Spaulding reported, “In January 1999, Tony was recognized with a ‘Civilian Heroism Award’ by the Fire Department for his actions during an apartment fire at 16 PA Avenue. Without regard for his own safety, Tony entered the burning building and assisted in the rescue of citizens trapped in the fire…”
Please join me in thanking Ott for his years of service and wishing him the best in the next chapter of his life.