Sometimes life brings you full circle. That is the case for new Homecroft Police Chief Jim Leonard.
Growing up, Leonard always wanted to be a police officer. And why not? He was surrounded by them. Leonard was raised in an Irish Catholic neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. His dad sold steel and his mom was a stay-at-home mother. Two older sisters rounded out the family. The neighborhood was dotted with homes of firefighters and police officers. The police and firefighters were revered, and every young boy wanted to grow up to be like them.
Leonard watched the public safety people in his neighborhood and started to notice the camaraderie. The bonds were strong and integral to developing good working units.
Eventually Leonard married, had three children, and became a firefighter. He kept his head down and worked hard at his job trying to provide for his growing family.
Public safety jobs are tough on marriages and after seven years in the department his marriage ended and he needed a different job. Leonard moved to Texas and started working in restaurant management.
One of the places he worked had a drive-up window. Each day a woman came through and ordered a cherry vanilla coke. Each day they talked a bit. Over time he found out she was a divorced mother of five children. And then it didn't take long for Leonard to ask her out. "I knew I had met the love of my life," Leonard said.
"October 1 was our first date," he said, "and we married in April of the following year." In addition to his three children and Lesa's five, they had three more. Later another young woman came to live with them and when asked, Leonard includes her saying he has 12 kids. Sadly, three years after marrying Lesa, Leonard's daughter from his first marriage passed away on his birthday.
Leonard continued working for the Incredible Pizza Company climbing the ranks to be vice president of operations and refining his ideas about teamwork. The chain had stores in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Indiana. "You had to talk to people and find out why they were doing things," he said. "You can't just come down on them if they aren't doing things right. But most of all, you have to get to know them. You have to learn about their families and what is important to them. When people feel valued, they step up."
That notion of getting to know people is evident when you watch Leonard as he interacts with the community. He talks with people. He asks people questions about themselves and genuinely seems to care. This is never more evident than when he is around kids. "These are our future leaders," he said. "They are what our community is all about."
"You can see this play out at community events," said Zach Frizzell, town council president. "He is always talking to the community and the kids."
On a cold, rainy, blustery day last December, the town had a meet Santa event. Kids could write a wish list to give to Santa and there was Leonard, sitting with the kids helping them write out their lists. Recently, during family movie night at Homecroft Elementary, Leonard was inviting kids to sit in his police car.
Team building is why the pizza company he worked for sent him to Indiana. In 2009 they needed someone to get the Indiana operations going. Jim and Lesa and their family moved to Franklin and things were going well for the family.
However, things took an awful turn in March of 2013 when Lesa was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. She passed away 10 months later. The cancer battle led the insurance company to cancel her insurance. They lost everything.
"Her dying wish was that I follow my dream of being a police officer," Leonard said. "One of my friends at the time was on the Homecroft Police Department and another was with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. The IMPD officer was friends with Chief Ryan and said that was the only department I should go to work for."
Leonard met with Chief John Ryan and joined the Homecroft Police Department in June of 2014. Leonard took the Pre-Basic class required of all wishing to join volunteer departments like Homecroft's. He has now completed the Chief's School and will attend the 8-week Tier II course offered by the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. The course requires officers to be at the Academy from Monday morning through Friday evening. While Leonard is taking the course Chief Ryan, Assistant Chief Dave Hodge, and Major Jason Holland are heading up the department.
Leonard's eagerness to get into law enforcement was one reason Ryan hired him. But more important, according to Ryan, was his positive attitude, his willingness to learn, his commitment to the town, and his ethics and honesty.
"Now that Jim is chief, he brings these traits to the position along with his law enforcement experience," Ryan said. "He also continues to be forward-looking in making the department more like family, and continuing to build the team, improve training and equipment, and improving service to the town."
Back to things coming full circle - in addition to living his childhood dream, Leonard can look back to his days managing restaurants. Restaurant management might not seem like a good background for running a police department, but it's all about teamwork, according to Leonard. "I might be the chief here, but we are a team," he said, "and it takes the whole team to run the department well."
In addition to appointing Dave Hodge as assistant chief, Leonard has promoted Jason Holland to major and Matt Baker to sergeant. Plans down the road involve getting a chaplain in the department. "A chaplain wouldn't be just for department members," Leonard explained. "The chaplain would be available to officers, their families, and the citizens. Something might happen in our community where we need a chaplain to talk with people. We need to take care of our spiritual, mental, and physical needs. I'd like to set up a little gym here with a Bowflex and a treadmill. Officers are required to volunteer 6-8 hours a week and at the end of a shift I would like that to include 30 minutes in our little gym. We need to take care of the whole person."
Leonard has an ambitious five-year plan for the department. That plan includes starting a program of lunch visits with elementary school students and staff. He is also encouraging the officers to interact with the community and is starting an officer bike program. "We've just ordered a bike uniform for Sgt. Baker," Leonard said. Leonard's plan is lengthy - two pages - and includes training officers, and possibly holding workshops for local citizens. Other plans include employing more social media, developing a tip line, and creating an in-house investigation division to help solve and prevent crimes. Leonard would also like to increase the hours of coverage in the community.
Now that his boyhood dream of becoming a police officer has come to fruition, he has set his sights on making the Homecroft Police Department the best it can be. To realize that goal, Leonard is going to rely on the team-building skills that have helped him in the past.
NATIONAL NIGHT OUT 2021!
August 3 2021, Begins at 5:00pm
National Night Out is an annual community-police awareness-raising event that will be held on August 3, 2021.
There will be food, drinks, bounce houses, music, games, free raffle items, and fun for all! Starting at 6:00pm, we will be giving away items for FREE every 15 minutes including; gift cards, gift baskets, event tickets, SkyZone certificates, movie tickets, car wash passes, oil change cards, and a stainless steel outdoor grill, just to name a few!
At 7:00pm we will continue our tradition of a water balloon fight between the Homecroft Police Officers and the community kids!
This is a great opportunity to connect with our community and to show appreciation for the individuals that are devoted to protect our community 24/7 and 365 days a year. Homecroft's National Night Out will be held at 1400 E. Tulip Drive.
This summer John Ryan will retire as chief of the Homecroft Police Department, a position he has held since January 1, 2011. It’s not a decision he has come to easily, but at 74 he says it’s time to pass on the torch.
“Growing up I wanted to do two things,” Ryan said. “I wanted to fly and to be a cop.” Ryan earned his instrument flight rating and was part owner of a V-Tail Beechcraft Bonanza once flown by Harvey Weir Cook (Google him!).
While Ryan gave up flying a number of years ago, it won’t be as easy giving up policing Homecroft, where he has served since 1983.
“We sometimes joke that Homecroft is Mayberry” (a reference to a 1960s TV show featuring life in an idyllic town). “But Homecroft really is special,” Ryan said.
“It’s such a neat little community. Homecroft has pretty much maintained its way of life over the years. People come and go. But people become assimilated into the Homecroft way. They get to know their neighbors. They look out for each other. They take pride in Homecroft.”
And Homecroft residents differ from those in other places in that they are very supportive of their police department. Reflecting on the current atmosphere of distrust of police, Ryan said people in Homecroft have never acted that way. “They come up and thank us for being here,” he said. “It might be a bit quieter. Maybe they don’t want to be outed. But honestly it seems like in the last couple of months more people have come up to thank us.
“Really here in Homecroft we get to know the residents. They will wave to us or stop to talk to us. It’s personal here.”
What does he want residents to know? “Cops are people,” he said. “All this divisive talk and politics has to stop. We need to deal with people on an individual basis and see each other as people.”
The other thing he wants people to know is the 20 or so members of the Homecroft Police Department are volunteers. The chief is the only paid member of the department. Ryan asks officers to volunteer six to eight hours a week. “We would like to have coverage 24/7 but that’s not possible,” Ryan said. “The coverage goes up and down, but we try to maintain a police presence 50 percent of the time.”
When asked why the officers would volunteer time, Ryan said, “It sounds cliche but they really do want to make a difference in the lives of people. They want to give back to the community.”
And what is he most proud of? “We have good officers and we have been able to increase the quality of training in the years since I’ve been here,” Ryan said.
“Tony Gregory is our training officer. We have monthly training sessions ranging from de-escalation to emergency vehicle operations to firearms training to legal update training. Tony volunteers with us but he retired as Assistant Director of Training at the Marion County Sheriff’s Department Training Academy. His training credentials are incredible. Susan Dean does our legal update training. She is a retired lieutenant from the state police legal section. We are very proud of our training courses.”
The department has also grown since Ryan joined back in 1983. “At that time Tom Sims was chief. Other officers were Bob Barber, Hank Bosworth, and Mike Dugan.”
Ryan took a circuitous route to policing. After graduating from the Latin School of Indianapolis in 1964 he attended Saint Meinrad Seminary with the thought of becoming a priest. That was in the 1960s when political, social, and racial unrest raged throughout the country. He and a few buddies were on their way to the South to join one of the marches in the civil rights movement when their car broke down en route. “Probably a good thing,” he said. Shortly thereafter he reconsidered the priesthood and ended up with a bachelor’s degree in business from Marian College, now Marian University.
After stints at Peerless Pump, Kennedy Equipment Company, and the dean’s office at IU Medical School, Ryan worked as an internal auditor in the Department of Natural Resources and became the director of accounting and internal auditing. He ended his DNR career as director of asset management having served that department for more than 23 years. It was there that Ryan learned more about state and local government and was awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash by Governor Robert Orr.
However, his early civics education came around the dinner table. His father had various public service positions. He was a city prosecutor, was appointed to the Marion County Circuit Court, and served as judge on the superior and appellate courts. The senior Ryan also served as Indiana State Senator. In the 1970s he was chief counsel for Governor Orr. Ryan said it was common for other city and state officials to gather around their dinner table and talk politics.
Zach Frizzell, president of the Homecroft Town Council, has been learning from Ryan for the nine years he has been on the council. Ryan attends all of the council meetings.
“Don’t let the chief’s slow talk and ‘aw shucks’ mannerisms fool you,” Frizzell said. “Chief Ryan attends all of the council meetings and he has been our go-to guy for so many things. When we have questions about rules, ordinances, state law, things that have happened in Indianapolis, anything, he has known the answers. He is as sharp as they come and an astute mentor of city and state government and history. We are going to miss his contributions to our meetings.”
Ryan and his wife, Jamie, enjoy road trips and plan to travel in retirement. He is a voracious reader of a wide range of books. He enjoys being around family and his dogs and also plans to spend more time in the garden.
The Homecroft Town Council has appointed Sgt. Jim Leonard as the new chief of the Homecroft Police Department, replacing the retiring John Ryan. Sgt. Leonard has been a member of HPD for the past seven years.
Homecroft Police Officer Jamie Adair met with older Girl Scouts to teach them to spot signs of alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses. The Scouts from Troops 1025, 234, and 192, had many questions and Officer Adair taught them what they need to do to assist until medical/police officials arrive. Officer Adair also instructed them on ways to help people with head and neck injuries and how to stabilize them until help arrives.
Officer Matt Baker was the recipient of two honors on Thursday, March 18, 2021, during the Town Board meeting. Officer Baker was first named Homecroft Police Department's 2020 Officer of the Year for multiple actions, including, but not limited to the resuscitation of an overdose victim with no heartbeat. Officer Baker administered CPR to the victim.
Second, Officer Baker, was awarded the Medal of Valor and Official Decree of Honor by the Town of Homecroft, a first for the Town. The medal and decree were awarded for actions taken on September 18th, 2020 by Officer Baker. Officer Baker observed smoke on Madison Avenue and followed it to an apartment building in the Green Tree Apartment Complex. On Approach, Officer Baker noticed flames coming from the windows and immediately notified dispatch to inform the Indianapolis Fire Department. Without consideration for his own safety, Officer Baker went into the burning building to evacuate residents. Accompanied by Captain Whitlow of Southport Police Department, both heroically and safely evacuated many residents, while they, themselves, suffered smoke inhalation and had to be treated on scene by Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services.
Captain Whitlow was also awarded a Commendation by the Homecroft Police Department for his involvement.