Kent Police Chief to Retire After 37 Years
James Peach to leave Kent police department after 37 years
Kent Police Chief James Peach is leaving the helm of the city's police department effective Jan. 23.
Peach spent 37 years with the department, which he joined in November 1973 after working three years as an officer with the Kent State University Police Department. He served as Kent's chief for 14 years.
Kent Police Capt. Michelle Lee will take over as the city's first female chief Jan. 24.
When Peach started, only one member of the department had a college degree — the city's current Safety Director Bill Lillich. Soon after, Peach became the city's second police officer to get a college degree to go along with the badge.
Today, three-fourths of the department's 42 officers have college degrees. For a university town, that's an important statistic, Peach said. And it's just one example of how Kent's police force has changed throughout the years.
"We have a much better-educated, trained and experienced police department than ever before," Peach said.
A lot of things have changed in Kent since Peach started. Trains no longer create a traffic mess downtown, where traffic was such that an officer was needed to run the traffic light at Main and Water streets during rush hour.
Since Peach started, the number of officers on duty at night has nearly tripled from two to three to between seven and nine. And instead of two weeks' training, a patrol officer must ride with a partner for six months before tackling his first solo shift.
Kent Safety Director Bill Lillich credits Peach with the vast institutional improvement of the department, mainly because of a leadership initiative implemented more than 20 years ago and still going on today.
"I'm certainly going to miss Jim," Lillich said. "He's been a fine chief. He helped bring this police department along in a wide variety of ways in terms of expanding individual skills and departmental overall talents."
Through the leadership initiative, officers from sergeant through lieutenant and captain work through a variety of advanced training programs. These are meant to improve the officer's current skills and prepare them for future leadership roles.
"We're seeing a return from that because we can see the quality of the people we have," Lillich said.
Peach said he's been around long enough to see major societal changes. Younger people are more resistant to authority, he said — even compared to the tumultuous year of 1970. And today's youth are less dedicated to social causes than previous generations, he added.
One example: the end-of-the-year celebratory rioting among college-age youth has worsened in 30 years.
Such observations might be tough to confirm, but one change that is quantifiable is the decline in major crime in Kent. Uniform Crime Reports submitted annually to the FBI show a steady drop over the years in the eight major crime categories, which include rapes, robberies and arson.
The beating deaths of two Kent State University students in the past 18 months may suggest Kent is an unsafe community, but the statistics show otherwise, Peach said.
Between 1998 and 2008, the overall number of assaults in the city declined. That trend has repeated in the past four decades.
"We are a very safe city, and that doesn't happen by chance," Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said. "(Peach) has set a tone and has expectations that really have come to define the police force here, and he has a lot to be proud of."
Peach told city administrators he would be available to them as the department moves forward, but he won't play any formal consulting role. Instead, he looks forward to settling into an unassuming retirement.
"Talking to other chiefs, they say a chief particularly it usually takes one to two years to decompress," Peach said.
"I don't want to become active in law enforcement after this," he added. "I think, 40 years -- I've done my turn. What I do believe in, firmly, is that wherever I'm going to go, I'm going to be led there. The lord will lead me where he wants me, as he did here, to serve his purpose.
"I'll just keep my eyes open."