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New police chief has a diverse background

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Education, experience played a part in new EPD selection

By Sarah Bennett

A pile of boxes sit in the middle of Chief Ruben Gardner’s office. The white walls and dark bookshelves are largely empty. Little evidence is left behind by the man who occupied the office of police chief for more than 20 years.

“Come Friday, I’m going to have this office cleaned out,” he said.

Gardner, 65, is retiring Friday after a 41-year career with the Elizabethtown Police Department, but the office won’t be empty for long.

On Monday, Elizabethtown City Council approved former Louisville Metro Police Assistant Chief Tracy Schiller, 58, as the new chief.

“I am quite honored, honestly, to have this opportunity,” Schiller said of his new position. “I’ve been familiar with the Elizabethtown Police Department for quite some time.”

Mayor Tim Walker described Schiller as a “good communicator” and “people person” who has worked his way through the police ranks over the years.

He began his police career as a patrolman with the Plantation Police Department in Plantation, in 1978, Schiller said. When he speaks to groups of police officers, he asks how many audience members were born after that date.

“Too many hands go up,” Schiller said.

Schiller went to Devondale Police Department before eventually serving as Plantation Police Department’s chief for a little while, he said. In 1982, he moved to the Shelbyville Police Department where he worked his way up to assistant police chief.

From 1989 to 2003, he worked with Louisville Metro Police before retiring and beginning a career as an instructor, Schiller said.

Gardner, who served on the committee to narrow the chief applicants, said the diversity of agencies Schiller has worked for as well as his education played a role in his selection.

“Shelbyville is somewhat smaller than Elizabethtown, but it’s still comparable in the type of policing community, policing you do in a smaller town versus being a commanding officer in Louisville,” he said.

Schiller graduated from the University of Louisville’s School of Justice Administration, he said. In 1980, he graduated from SPI’s Administrative Officers Course, and like Gardner, he’s a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

Though he’s originally from Dayton, Ohio, Schiller moved to Louisville in 1974 and has been a resident of Kentucky ever since, he said. He jokingly admitted some people might hold his ties to the city and the University of Louisville against him.

While Gardner is cleaning out his office, Schiller is finishing up his duties with SPI and plans to set a hard start date within a couple of days, he said.

Schiller said his biggest goal as incoming police chief is to be a part of and build the community of Elizabethtown.

“I want to get to know the community and let the community get to know me,” he said.

Another one of his goals is to build on Gardner’s successes, but he said he by no means plans to fill the void left by the outgoing chief.

“I don’t think I would dare try to fill those shoes,” Schiller said.

One of his first duties as police chief will be appointing new positions as two deputy chiefs are retiring Friday with Gardner — deputy chiefs Jack Harris and Carl Bee. Both men have served with the department for more than 20 years.

Both Gardner and Schiller said the promotions will come from within the department and will be made soon.

Schiller said he is confident there are good, strong candidates within EPD who can fill the voids left by Harris and Bee, which is not always the case in other departments.

“It’s just a matter of me getting to know who these people are,” Schiller said.

Gardner said he expects any changes within the department will be minor. However, as an outsider, Schiller is in a good position to recognize ways to improve, he said.

“I think that’s going to be a benefit for him to come in and say, ‘Why are you doing it this way?’ or ‘Maybe we can do that differently,’” he said.

As for Gardner, he said he hasn’t had much time to slow down and consider his emotions regarding his impending retirement and Schiller’s transition into the position he held for more than 20 years.

“I guess everybody hates to see this phase of their life come to an end or take another direction after you’ve been in law enforcement for so long,” he said. “On the other hand, I just feel like I’m ready for retirement, so I don’t regret it.

“It was my decision to make; I made it. I look forward to next week when I don’t have to come in to work.”

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.