Retiring police chief reflects on long career

SALEM – Soon-to-be-retired Salem Police Chief Bob Floor said he’s always disliked the terms law enforcement and zero tolerance – for him it’s alway been about common sense.

“I always considered my job to be to help the public. That’s the way I viewed it and tried to perform it,” he said.

The 57-year-old lifelong Salem resident will end more than 36 years of crime fighting on Feb. 1, retiring after more than 30 years with the Salem Police Department, the last six as chief.

According to Floor, he is a police officer or peace officer.

“The only reason we have police is because when you have a large number of people living together, there have to be rules to live by. Police officers are there to keep people living safely together and the laws are a tool to reach that end,” he said.

“A robot could be a law enforcement officer. It takes a person to be a police officer,” he said.

That’s where the common sense comes in. Floor explained that just because an officer can arrest someone, that doesn’t mean they should. During his career, he used the power of arrest when the person made it necessary and left him no other choice. If he could change the behavior by other legitimate means, that’s what he would do.

“Zero tolerance means giving up the choice to think before you act,” he said.

He first started thinking about a career as a police officer in high school. While his friends yelled at a police officer who was removing someone from a football game, he was the kid who sided with the police officer.

A 1973 Salem High School graduate, Floor worked at the former Warren Molded Plastics and Electric Furnace. His police career began when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force for four years and served with the security police.

After his discharge, he started working part-time as a dispatcher with the Lisbon Police Department in 1980 and became a part-time officer while attending the Salem Police Academy, graduating in April 1981. He was hired full-time with the village of Lisbon in late October 1982 and a month later, received a call from Salem.

He was hired as a full-time patrolman with the Salem Police Department on Dec. 28, 1982, made sergeant on July 21, 1995, made lieutenant on May 26, 2001 and then chief on March 31, 2006.

Floor said he decided to retire because he’s in a financial position to leave and he’s looking forward to doing more with his wife, Karen, and their family and friends. He’s not leaving because he hates the place.

“I actually still love the job and love the department,” he said.

He’ll fill his time with handyman jobs, lots of travel, including to points south, visits with friends who live all over the country and a golf game or two. He and his wife don’t have children, but they have Rascal the chihuahua mix to keep them busy. Floor also has siblings in Ohio and his parents, Clyde and Nita, in Salem.

His favorite part of the job was working with people and helping them through their problems. His least favorite part of the job was handling some of the tragic events he’s encountered over the years, including a couple of train/pedestrian fatalities. What bothered him the most was seeing the hurt left behind for the families.

He never had to fire his weapon, but had to draw it from its holster several times when others had weapons.

As chief, he said his greatest accomplishments included building a new evidence room in the basement of police headquarters and implementing a new evidence procedure, besides getting a new computer system and recently upgrading that system.

His disappointments included watching his department fall from a 24-person department to a low of 17 through attrition. Three officers and a full-time secretary were lost to layoff, but the police officers are back and the number for the department stands at 19 and will go to 20 under the new chief, J.T. Panezott.

Another disappointment was losing former Sgt. John Less to injury. Less ended up leaving the department and now works in the private sector. Floor said he was a good officer and that’s something no chief wants to go through.

Since Panezott scored the highest on the civil service exam to become chief, Floor has been working with him and showing him the ropes of the administrative side of the job. Panezott is a sergeant who’s been with the department 23 years and worked extensively on the drug problem while assigned to the Columbiana County Drug Task Force and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to Floor, the continuing drug problem is the biggest challenge Panezott will face as a chief. He’ll also be dealing with challenges regarding personnel. Floor said he’ll pass on to Panezott the same advice passed on to him by his predecessor, Mike Weitz.

“When you find out about something or hear about something that makes you very angry, keep your mouth shut until you’ve calmed down. Make sure you check the facts before making any statements,” he said.

People will make accusations about officers and their actions, but he said it’s best to make certain before jumping and ruining a good officer over something that may have never occurred.

He’ll also suggest he join police chief associations to use as a resource and attend meetings for organizations he’ll belong to by virtue of his position as chief. Floor said Panezott will do a great job as the new chief. He’s had his turn and now it’s time for new blood and new ideas to take their turn.

He offered his thanks to his officers and public officials past and present during a recent council meeting.

To the public he served, he said “thanks for everything. Mr. Bob Floor will be seeing you around.”