Who’s who at the Yellow Springs PD
- Published: February 23, 2017
PEOPLE AND POLICE
This is the third article in a new series examining police policy, practice and relationship to the community.
Articles in this series
- New police reforms aired
- Police reform at the YSPD— What’s done, what’s next?
- Village Council— New YSPD imagined at forum
- Communities rethink how to police
- An often fraught relationship is under scrutiny
- Citizens seek strong voice in policing
- How are our local police officers trained?
- Who’s who at the Yellow Springs PD
- What sort of policing do we want?
- A closer look at taser use
In an interview with this newspaper in 2011, Yellow Springs Police Officer Dennis Nipper reflected on his work as a police officer. He and his fellow officers are tasked with addressing a wide variety of village concerns, from routine to dangerous, often not knowing what situation they are getting themselves into while answering a call.
“When we come to a situation, we step in between people and become the target,” Nipper said at the time. “We stand in between you and the boogeyman at nighttime, and that’s why when something scary happens, you don’t call your rabbi, your preacher or your doctor — you call us. We absorb all that.”
Given the nature of his job, he said he was surprised that he was able to retire “without a scratch.” But whether changing flat tires or investigating the scenes of serious crimes, part of the officers’ job satisfaction stems from the sense that they’re doing their part to contribute to the well-being of the village. In introductory profiles written in this paper, local officers have mentioned their interest in engaging with the community on a person-to-person level, and have appreciatively referenced the “slower pace of life in Yellow Springs” that allows them to become more involved with each case they investigate.
But despite the officers’ professed readiness to serve the village, many Yellow Springs residents in recent years have expressed dissatisfaction with the apparent gulf between the police department and villagers, a sentiment reiterated with significant emphasis following the contentious handling of the events of New Year’s Eve.
At the Jan. 3 Council meeting, for example, villagers referenced a time when officers were better known by the community, which they maintain helps officers feel more invested in the town and helps residents feel more comfortable with their presence. In a recent News article, interim chief Brian Carlson agreed that the department’s relationship with villagers was strained, and noted that his first priority was “repairing the relationship” between villagers and police.
“We need to be of the same fabric,” he said. “We’ve strayed.”
The third article in the “People and Police” series will attempt to address this disconnect by introducing readers to the YSPD, presenting a more personal look at the officers who serve Yellow Springs.
Current department personnel
The YSPD currently employs seven full-time officers and three part-time officers, in addition to the department head, Brian Carlson, who was sworn in last week as interim chief following the resignation of previous chief David Hale after the New Year’s Eve incident. Officers Naomi Watson and Josh Knapp are the department’s sergeants, and according to a December 2016 interview with Hale, sergeants oversee the other officers and act as a professional point of reference when it comes to questions about policy or procedure that require the oversight of a superior. Both sergeants serve on the day shift, while officer Dave Meister was recently appointed by Carlson as the officer in charge on the evening shift.
There have been some personnel changes at the department recently. Officer Allison Saurber, one of the officers involved in the incident on New Year’s Eve, resigned last week in order to take a full-time job near her home in Butler County, an hour’s drive from Yellow Springs. Also recently announced is the return of two part-time officers, Luciana Lieff and Stephanie (Spurlock) Bennington who will be rejoining the YSPD within the next few weeks. Carlson confirmed this week that Bennington will be returning to the YSPD as a full-time officer while Lieff will be working part-time.
FULL-TIME OFFICERS (listed alphabetically)
Jeff Beam was hired by the Village in early 2014. According to a Dec. 2014 News profile, he grew up on the grain and cattle farm his family has had in Caesar Creek Township since the 1880s. Loving the land but aiming for a different life, he started out in the electronics field selling pneumatic equipment and later repairing copiers for a company in Franklin, Ohio. But around the age of 40, Beam decided what he really wanted was a career in law enforcement. He became a Greene County corrections officer, went through the police academy and in March 2014 got his first post as a patrol officer in Yellow Springs.
Stephanie (Spurlock) Bennington previously worked as an officer for the YSPD, and like many local officers, she started off her professional life in an unrelated field. Spurlock told the News in 2013 that she was living in Milwaukee and working as a banker when she started down the path of training as an officer, something she had wanted to do since childhood. But motherhood sidetracked her and brought her back to Ohio, she said, where she joined a bank and worked in every position from teller to mortgage broker. After 17 years in the numbers field, her earlier intent surfaced again, and after working for a year at the Fairborn Jail and part-time with Jamestown Police Department, Spurlock joined the YSPD in 2013. To her surprise, the organization and compassionate leadership skills she developed as a mother of three have been quite useful as an officer in a small town, she said. “Being a mom helps a lot,” she said in the 2013 article. “Plus I’m a talker anyway — I love people and I especially love dogs.”
Brian Carlson is currently the YSPD’s interim chief. Trained in music and working for many years in architectural interiors and carpentry, Carlson also came relatively late to police work, graduating at age 48 from the Sinclair Community College Police Academy and starting at the YSPD in 2010.
In 2014, Carlson was assigned as a detective to the ACE Task Force. Though initially interested in the post, “I knew instantly it wasn’t for me,” he said in a recent interview. He resigned as a full-time officer two months later, and has served the Village part-time ever since, until his new appointment as interim chief late last month.
Yellow Springs is his first policing post. Carlson’s prior work experience includes the ownership of two carpentry-related small businesses, Opera Portables and CJ Bryson, Inc. He remains active in CJ Bryson, which does architectural interior modeling, including for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He and his wife of 30 years, Shannon, live in Xenia Township about seven minutes southeast of Yellow Springs. They have two daughters, both of whom previously attended Mills Lawn School.
Like many of the YSPD’s officers, Mark Charles had a different career before becoming a police officer. He worked as an engineer for Polycom, a global technology company, but as he explained to the News in December 2014, he decided to follow his childhood dream of working in law enforcement upon being laid off. His first post as an officer was with the City of Union, where he grew up. He was hired as a member of the YSPD in September 2014. He said in a 2014 profile that he joined the YSPD because he felt it was small enough that he could make a difference with his work. He lives in Beavercreek with his wife and three children.
Randall “RJ” Hawley was already a nine-year police veteran when he arrived at the YSPD in 2014. Hawley came dually trained as an officer and dispatcher from Sugarcreek Police Department. He is the YSPD’s defensive tactics specialist and a certified taser instructor. Hawley leads the YSPD’s annual day of tactical training, in which officers practice takedowns and self-defense. Hawley also reviews each case that involves taser usage, which includes downloading the electronic report the taser generates and inspecting any device that’s deployed, and is the safety officer when the department does its biannual firearms training. He has been on administrative leave since the Jan. 1 incident.
Josh Knapp grew up on a livestock farm in Cedarville Township. Several of his family members were in the law enforcement field, and after attending Sinclair Community College for two years, Knapp headed to the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy. Fairborn was his first post after the police academy. He served the City of Fairborn for nine years before deciding to drop back to a department that operates at a whole different speed, according to a 2013 profile in the News. He was hired by the YSPD in November 2013 and was promoted to sergeant in January 2014. He currently lives outside Cedarville with his family, including two school-age children.
Dave Meister moved to Yellow Springs with his family in the fall of 2009. Before coming to Yellow Springs, he worked as a biologist in Seattle for the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department for 10 years. His job often involved working with the game wardens on their cases, which spurred his interest in becoming a game warden himself. He told the News in 2010 that in order to get law enforcement experience, he began working part time for the City of Arlington Police Department, the department of a “small, rather rough town” in Washington, and discovered he liked the work. He worked at the Arlington Department for three years before moving to Yellow Springs. He started as a part-time officer at the YSPD in 2010 and then moved to full-time, and is now one of the longest-serving officers on the local force, where he is also the department’s firearms instructor. He and his wife, who grew up in the village, and their four children live in Yellow Springs.
Naomi Watson is presently the longest-serving full-time officer in Yellow Springs, having joined the department in 2007 after working for a year and a half as an officer in Enon. She too came from a non-law enforcement background, having worked in the medical field in Columbus for 10 years. Following the birth of her daughter, she moved back to the area and began working as a dispatcher and jailer in Fairborn. She liked the work and entered the police academy in 2005.
As a mother of four, Watson found she was drawn to work with children and became trained in investigating crimes against children and in doing forensic interviews with victims of abuse. Her training and expertise has been requested in cases as far away as Indiana. In 2011, she was recognized by the Greene County Children’s Services as Child Advocate of the Year for her work with children, and in January 2014, she was promoted to sergeant at the YSPD. She and her husband enjoy running challenging races, such as those taking them through mud and obstacle courses.
PART TIME OFFICERS
Luciana Lieff grew up near São Paulo, Brazil. According to a 2013 article in the News, Lieff came to the U.S. as a college student to get fluent in English. She went first to Maryland on a work visa as an au pair, and then she met a pilot, who was just buying a home in Yellow Springs. They married and moved here in 2001. Policing spoke to Lieff’s personality and skills and so she signed up for the criminal justice program at Clark State in 2010. She went on to the Police Academy at the Greene County Career Center, graduating in 2012 and taking her first post as an officer in Yellow Springs in 2013. She is returning to Yellow Springs after relocating to Xenia in 2014.
By far the longest-serving local officer is Dennis Nipper, who is a 45-year veteran of the YSPD. He spent 15 of those years as a sergeant. He retired several years ago and then came back as a part-time patrolman. Nipper and his wife, Jane, are longtime Yellow Springs residents — both grew up in Yellow Springs. They purchased the BP at the corner of Corry Street and Xenia Avenue in 2006, recently renaming it “Nipper’s Corner.”
Nipper has a longstanding interest in policing, explaining in a recent interview that he used to ride around with local officers when he was a kid. Nipper was hired by former Police Chief Jim McKee, who knew Nipper personally and suggested he apply for the job of an officer. He was trained as an officer at the Greene County Sheriff’s training facilities and was asked to work for them, but he wanted to return to be an officer where he grew up. While he appreciates the investigative aspect of his job, his favorite part is relating to the community, “half of which I was already related to anyway,” he joked.
While currently working as a part-time officer with the YSPD, Tim Spradlin has developed a “mindset of emergency preparedness” over the course of his career, as he said in an interview last year, working in many public service capacities as an employee and instructor. Spradlin has worked for over 35 years as police officer, volunteer firefighter/EMT and criminal investigator. He is a former Xenia Township fire chief and Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy instructor and also conducts training seminars with businesses and organizations on how to respond to active shooter scenarios. He currently lives in Xenia Township.