Bainbridge Police Chief Jon Bokovitz took members of the local historical society on a journey recently into the past and present of the township police department.
Chief Bokovitz, who has been with the department for 36 years, gave his presentation Nov. 10 at Town Hall during the monthly meeting of the Bainbridge Historical Society.
Founded in 1975 with the late Chief James Jimison at the helm, the department started with four officers and has only had two chiefs during its history. Chief Jimison served more than 35 years from June 1975 to November 2010, when Chief Bokovitz took on those responsibilities. A native of Ironton, Ohio, he graduated from John Carroll University with a degree in sociology.
Looking back, he said when he was hired by Chief Jimison, it was in the days before there was a Route 422 freeway running through town, and there were no Lake in the Woods, Bainbrook or Canyon Lakes housing subdivisions. The new – and now former – Tanglewood Mall attracted shoppers and there were plenty of cows living on farms within the township.
“We had good times together,” Chief Bokovitz said of his work with former chief. When appointed to his new position following Chief Jimison’s retirement, Chief Bokovitz attended the FBI National Academy and a leadership class. He noted that his predecessor had already begun the practice of recruiting from colleges and today, most of the officers have advanced degrees.
“We try to hire people who fit our community,” Chief Bokovitz said. Public service is a priority in the department and includes checking houses when residents are on vacation. The department offers the Safety Town program for children entering kindergarten at Kenston School District, the DARE program involving drug abuse resistance education for school children as well as the Citizens Police Academy which is offered to adult residents.
Chief Bokovitz noted shootings involving fatalities are rare with some of the most notable being one several years ago at a former gun shop on East Washington Street and one at a home on Stafford Road.
“We try to curb violence in the early stages,” Chief Bokovitz said. “And we don’t have very many serious problems with our teenagers in the township. We stop things before it happens.”
In its early years, the department occupied limited office space in the lower level of the Bainbridge Town Hall. Now, it is located at what everyone still calls the “new” building off Bainbridge Road, which the department moved into in 2004.
“It’s a fantastic building and keeps the officers safe,” Chief Bokovitz said. “It is a fixture in the township and will be a historical building 50 years from now,” he added.
In a major step in 2016, the police department closed its dispatch center and contracted with the Geauga County Sheriff’s office for dispatch service. “Our computer equipment was old and dying and new equipment would have cost $380,000,” Chief Bokovitz said. At the time, there were seven full-time dispatchers working in the Bainbridge dispatch center. “We talked to the sheriff and they said they could absorb us.
“We saved roughly $500,000 in the first year by going with the sheriff’s dispatch center, and we hired more police officers. We work with the sheriff and have no problems,” he said. “I can see the calls on my computer. It works out very well, and it has saved us money and we have more officers out on the roads.”
When the Route 422 freeway was being planned, people feared the worst about what it would bring to the community, Chief Bokovitz said. Other than more traffic in the community, concerns about car thefts, burglaries and break-ins did not happen anymore than would have happened before the freeway was built.
Before COVID hit, when many people left their homes to go to work for the day, there were more break-ins. The thieves knock on the door and if no one is home, they break into a house, stealing cash and jewelry and taking off.
“They were everywhere,” he said of burglars. “Then COVID hit and with people working from home, they (thieves) are not doing it now.” Thieves do go to local stores to steal and the big-box stores are often targets. A common scenario involves a thief taking an item from a store in the township and bringing it to the same store in another community and asking for a refund.
Chief Bokovitz noted, “Most of our crimes are non-violent. We do get a lot of the same people stealing,” he added. “We are not overrun with crime, and we don’t have the number of domestic violence incidents we had in the past.” Except for deer and raccoons, a police officer has never shot anyone.
“My goal is to leave the department better than when I took over as chief, and to make sure the police officers are good stewards of the department.” In hiring officers, candidates are interviewed and given psychological tests.
Police work involves good communication with residents, however, with more people on computers today, it is harder to find officers with those people skills, he noted.
Chief Bokovitz said the department has a good rapport with high school students, the schools and community in general. “The support we get is fantastic,” he said. “We have good relationships and we work on those relationships.”
Those interested in attending the citizens police academy can call the department and ask to be put on the list for 2022. “If we can do it safely, we will do it in the spring,” he said, noting the COVID situation will determine if it can be held or not.