Mabry: Vermillion is 'a breath of fresh air' by David Lias Art Mabry's law enforcement career has taken him on a journey to communities that decrease significantly in size along the way.
It began in Fairfax County, VA, a suburb of Washington, DC populated by over a million people.
More recently, Mabry served as the chief of police in Olathe, KS, a community about the size of Sioux Falls located south of Kansas City.
Monday, he officially became the police chief of Vermillion, with only a tenth of the population of Olathe. He was given the oath of office in the Clay County Courthouse Jan. 6 by Circuit Judge Art Rusch.
"For me, this is a breath of fresh air," Mabry said during an interview in his office Tuesday morning. "Vermillion appealed to me because I grew up in a community like this back in Ohio. It was a place where people knew each other and cared about each other."
He is especially excited to call a smaller town with a large amount of diversity his new home.
"The university, I find, is really exciting, because it offers such diversity in sports and cultural activities," Mabry said. "Vermillion is far enough away from major metropolitan areas to escape a big city influence. And yet, there are plenty of opportunities, if you wish, to easily drive to Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Omaha or Kansas City."
Mabry was at a bit of a disadvantage Tuesday. Everything was still so new. He jokingly admitted that he still hasn't figured out how the phone in his office works.
The new chief will need time to immerse himself in his new role, to get to know not only the citizens in the community, but also the law officers employed in his department.
This is where his rich experience in police work may prove most valuable.
Mabry, 50, started his law enforcement career in 1973 as a patrol officer for the Fairfax County Police Department.
"I retired from there as commander of the patrol bureau," he said. "The department had over 1,000 officers, and there were 750 officers in my bureau."
Mabry decided to try a new career in the public sector outside of law enforcement. It was a mistake.
"I decided that I needed to get back into the law enforcement field," he said.
He learned that Olathe was looking for police chief, so he applied, and was hired in June 1999.
"I retired from that job after two-and-a-half years and went into consulting," Mabry said. "I found out that when you're a consultant, nobody really trusts you, and I really missed the aspects of being involved in a law enforcement organization."
He's happy to continue his law enforcement career in a city like Vermillion.
"This is an active community, and I suspect with the new city manager, it's going to be a growing community," Mabry said. "I feel ready to meet that aspect of Vermillion, because I know about some of the issues that law enforcement must face in a community as it grows."
Mabry said a strong relationship between the city and USD concerning law enforcement issues is essential.
"I think any problems that may occur from the younger population at the university can be minimized by working with the university's public safety group and its administrators," he said. "By communicating and working together, I'm optimistic that we can reduce some of the difficult times that some aspects of the university and the community have at times."
Mabry was immaculately dressed Tuesday in a dark suit and tie. He plans to swap that formal look with what he feels are more appropriate work clothes � a uniform and badge.
"I hope to start riding along with the officers soon, because I think that will be one of the best ways I can get to know the community," he said. "We had an employee meeting on Monday, my first day here, and I've spent a lot of time with Kim (Callahan, the assistant police chief) as he helps me become familiar with the operation here."
Mabry realizes that some officers of the police department may be apprehensive. "When somebody new like me comes along, there's always a feeling that life will no longer be like it used to be.
"I've told the members of the department that I'm not going to be a bull in a china shop," he said. "I'm more like a sponge. I'm just trying to soak in everything. The officers I've met seem very professional and committed."
A dedicated police force, Mabry said, must have modern, adequate equipment in order be efficient.
That likely will be an area that Mabry will address someday. But he realizes it will take some planning, and some budgeting for the future.
"For example, I had to have my fingerprints taken Monday," Mabry said. "And the methods used in Vermillion probably haven't changed for years. It's the old-fashioned ink and paper method, and it takes a long time."
Modern police departments are turning more to computer technology to help out with everything from taking fingerprints to dispatching.
"Some of the resources this department has to work with are very outdated," Mabry said. "That is an issue that needs to be addressed, and I realize we have a budget to deal with. But there are a lot of federal grants out there, and I think we'll have to be a little more diligent in looking for those funds."
Equipment updates, he said, will eventually pay for themselves.
"I'm a firm believer that if you give officers the resources they need, you don't have to expand the department as much," Mabry said. "When you give officers the tools to do their jobs, they will do a better job and it will help reduce turnover."
The new chief said his office door will always be open to anyone who wants to visit with him about any issue.
"Law enforcement used to be an island unto itself," he said. "The doors were always closed. This has changed. With our policies and procedures, and the way we do things, there are no secrets."
Mabry realizes there are times when the police department must use care when communicating with the public about certain issues, such as a major crime investigation.
"But 'no comment' is not in my vocabulary," he said. "I will give the public information as long as it doesn't harm an investigation."
Mabry once worked for a police chief who wouldn't cooperate with the media. "He didn't like the media, and it caused a lot of problems. Then we got a new chief who had a completely different attitude. He wanted to keep people informed and it made such a difference."
Community policing, Mabry said, is the latest buzzword in law enforcement.
"I'm a firm believer in community involvement," he said. "The community is our customer, and we have an obligation to serve our customers."
Vermillion is a place of new beginnings � both professionally and personally � for Mabry. He's a divorc� who is engaged and plans to remarry soon. Patrick, the teenage son of his fianc�, recently received a personal tour of Vermillion High School from Superintendent Bob Mayer and several students.
"We really appreciate that," he said.