Chief leaving for state post

Art Mabry

When Police Chief Art Mabry started work in Vermillion in January 2003, he never thought he would stay here on a permanent basis.

I have to admit that the first couple of years, it was one of those things in my mind, I was thinking, Im going to do my time here, and Im probably going to leave Vermillion when its over with, he said.

However, when he recently received a call from Attorney General Marty Jackley about taking a job in Pierre, his reaction was different.

Without hesitation, both my wife and I said, Were not leaving Vermillion, Mabry said. I thanked the attorney general for the offer, but indicated that moving to Pierre was not an option for us, that we were happy here, that we considered Vermillion our home, that we had no desire to leave. To which he said, If you dont mind traveling, you can stay there.

And so, after nearly 40 years in law enforcement, Mabry will retire on Jan. 28 to become director of the 24/7 Sobriety Project. His first day at his new job will be Feb. 1.

One person who wishes him well in this new endeavor is Mayor Jack Powell.

(Mabry) has done a nice job while hes been here, Powell said. Hes tried to instill a high degree of professionalism in his department.

Mabrys career in law enforcement began in 1973 in Fairfax County, VA, near Washington, DC. With more than 1 million residents, Fairfax County had a police department with more than 1,000 officers.

Although he liked Fairfax County and spent the majority of his career there, Mabry wanted to make a change.

I was raised in a community in northeast Ohio that was more the size of Vermillion, he said. It was right next to Kent State University, so I kind of grew up in a little bit of a college atmosphere, albeit a radical college atmosphere at the time. I really hoped to get back to that kind of atmosphere when I left Fairfax.

But getting back wasnt so simple.

One of the problems when youre with a large department like that is when you apply to a smaller community, you usually get an interview, you usually make it to the final three or four on the list, but theres just a reluctance to bring somebody in thats had all those resources. I think theres a fear that you wont stay very long because youre frustrated at not having those resources, Mabry said.

As a result, Mabry went to Olathe, KS, a community of approximately 100,000 people. He became chief in 1999, and stayed there for two-and-a-half years.

After working in the field of consulting for a time, Mabry resumed his career in law enforcement in Vermillion.

At that time, the city manager was looking for somebody with the experience that I brought, Mabry said. He thought I would be a good fit with what the needs were here at that time. Thats kind of how I got here.

Although he was glad to come back to the Midwest, Mabry said his first year in Vermillion was a little rough.

It took a little while for me to get used to the community, and for the community to adjust to my policing style and philosophy, he said. Quite frankly, I think we both compromised a little bit. I think eventually the majority of the community recognized that maybe some of the things the department was trying implement after I got here werent so bad after all.

Likewise, I had to stop and kind of reevaluate my position on some things, and understand that communities pretty much dictate the way they want to be policed. You really have to operate within those boundaries, he said.

Mabry said one of the things that helped him to realize this was the promotion of Capt. Chad Passick.

I remember in his interview he said he thought he could take my 30-some years of experience and apply it to Vermillion. When he said that, a light bulb went off and I thought, Thats what I need, Mabry said.

Since that time, Mabry said he and Passick have worked together on issues, giving each other advice on how to handle specific situations.

Passick will take over as interim chief when Mabry retires, until a replacement can be found.

In the time Mabry has spent as Vermillions police chief, he has seen several changes, particularly in the area of technology.

We now have laptops in the cars, we have much better in-car video cameras, he said. When I came here, it was kind of like having the family video camera tied down to the dashboard. Now its actually integrated into the car and activates when the lights come on.

Another change occurred when the Vermillion Police Department became one of the few in South Dakota to be recognized by the Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation.

In a process that Mabry called a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for law enforcement, the department was opened up for inspection and examination with an aim to improve the delivery of public safety serv

That was quite a process, to meet their standards, Mabry said. In fact, we were given their recognition award in March 2008. They required that for you to maintain that you have to go through their process every three years. We just finished going through the process, we just had our on-site assessment, and all indications are we will have it given to us again for another three years.

Id put that as one of the chief accomplishments that hes done, Powell said. I think it speaks well for his commitment to quality and adherence to national standards. I always think its good to if you can afford it to get whatever national accreditation is available to your program.

Mabry is now turning his attention to his position with the 24/7 Sobriety Project, which works with chronic DWI offenders to change their behavior and prevent further arrests.

Under the 24/7 program, the offender must report to their local sheriffs office or police department and submit to breath tests twice a day. If it is not convenient for them to appear for testing, they are required to wear an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet.

As long as theyre alcohol-free, they can continue to stay outside and be a contributing member of the community, Mabry said. Any indication theyve been using alcohol, they are immediately incarcerated.

All of the testing will be paid for by the offenders themselves, he added.

Mabry said he sees an opportunity for this program to branch out, and he wants to be involved in that process.

I think theres more that we can do, and I think part of that is the national aspect of it, he said. I think there are a lot of other states that are starting to look at this. Its a pretty good program, so Im optimistic that maybe we can take it to the next level.

Despite his excitement, Mabry said he will miss the people hes come to know in his role as Vermillions police chief.

Like most people say, they wont miss the job but theyll miss the people. And thats true, he said. Ive made a lot of friends. Friends that I will keep, but not being in the profession, (Im) not going to see them as often. Theres a tendency sometimes for those contacts to get a little cold after a while.

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