Westminster saying good-bye to sergeant major


Baseball, football and basketball players who reach great heights in their professional careers see their numbers retired with them.

Today, Paul R. Flickinger Jr., 55, the only sergeant major in the Westminster Police Department, will see the retirement of that rank when he leaves the city force after 26 years.

Sergeant Flickinger is to be honored by his fellow workers and friends with a retirement party at the Westminster Fire Hall on Wednesday.

He is only the second member of the force to have attained the rank of sergeant major in the department's long history, said Chief Sam Leppo. The other left the force years ago.

Sergeant Flickinger attained the rank -- which recognized his exceptional service and elevated him a step above the department's other sergeants -- in 1980.

He said he has always used the motto, "Be visible and keep in contact with the public."

The officer, who worked for the State Highway Administration for about three years before joining the police force, was born on a farm in Carroll County and went to school in Winfield and Westminster.

Stranger stood out

Sergeant Flickinger said he remembers many unusual incidents as a police officer, but one particularly comes to mind each time he stops someone in the middle of the night.

"It was in the early '70s, when you knew everybody in Westminster and a stranger stood out," he said. "I was driving across the Longwell [parking] lot and saw a man walking along the roadway with his shirttail out.

"As I pulled up beside him I asked, 'Sir, can I help you?'

"With that, the stranger pulled his shirttail up and pulled a .38-cal. snub-nosed revolver out of his belt.

"I felt helpless, but he turned the gun around and handed it to me butt first and said, 'Sir, I have no knives or other weapons on me.' "

Sergeant Flickinger said that the man told him he had escaped from a work gang in Marion, N.C., where he had served eight years of a 14-year sentence for attempted rape. The man was later returned to North Carolina.

"I was at his mercy, but he never tried to harm me," Sergeant Flickinger said. "Yes, I'll never forget it."

As the veteran officer recalled his years patrolling Westminster's streets, he said his fondest memories are of the many friends he has made.

"Just about a year ago, a man stopped me in town and said, 'Do you remember me? You took me home and talked to me like a father years ago, and I'll always remember how kind you were.'

"The man has become very successful, and I like that," said Sergeant Flickinger.

Helped ambassador

"In the old days," he said, "you had time to take a mischievous juvenile home and sit around the table with his family and discuss the matter. In most cases you never had the problems again.

Another incident the officer recalled was when the U.S. ambassador to Australia and his family were on their way to Gettysburg in a chauffeured Cadillac, when it broke down at Route 97 and Route 32.

"The ambassador was unable to reach anyone in Washington on that Sunday to get another car," Sergeant Flickinger said. "I contacted the mayor and received permission to drive the family back to Washington. They left the keys to the Cadillac with me until the next day, when the vehicle could be repaired."

Chief Leppo, who joined the department shortly after Sergeant Flickinger and patrolled the streets with him, said he "will be missed by the department and by the community. He has been a perfect gentleman throughout his career.

"In all his years, he has never caused one problem. He is totally professional, and I know I'm going to miss him.

"I tried to talk him out of retiring."

Sergeant Flickinger said he hopes to become more active in Zion United Methodist Church and to do some part-time work in Westminster.

But he might miss police work.

"If I had a chance to do it all over again, I would," he said.

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