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.