EASTON — “We are going to recognize the five officers who retired last fall, with a collective 118 years of service to the department,” Easton Police Chief David Spencer said as the room erupted in applause.
“Yes, you can clap for that,” he said. “That’s a long time.”
It was the end of an era at the Easton Police Department last year — five long-time officers who were hired by Chief Ed Blessing in the 1990s, spent decades patrolling the streets of Easton, fought crime, did good deeds and mentored other young officers hung up their hats in retirement.
Retired Easton officers Capt. Mark R. Waltrup, 1st Sgt. Rhonda Thomas, M/Sgt. Edward J. Patrone, Sgt. James R. Miller and Sgt. John E. Coleman were honored on March 23 in a special program following the department’s annual awards and promotions ceremony, held at Easton Elks Lodge #1622.
Former Chief Ed Blessing started the round of kudos for the officers, recalling the hiring process for each one.
Blessing said he goes back 54 years at the EPD, and in his early days worked as a detective doing background investigations on applicants and reporting his findings to then Chief William Wilkinson.
Wilkinson’s 38-year career ended in 1976.
Blessing said that, as chief, he had the final say on four out of five of the retirees.
“You all are my family,” he said. “We have come a long ways throughout the years. And from the people we have hired and continued to hire, the Easton Police Department is now recognized as one of the top law enforcement agencies on the Eastern Shore and I also say even the state of Maryland.”
After 25 years of serving the town, 1st Sgt. Rhonda Thomas retired on August 31.
Thomas began in 1992, spending most of her career in the patrol division except when assigned to the criminal investigations unit.
In 2010, she became the 2nd officer to achieve the rank of first sergeant which is the executive patrol officer and assistant chief patrol commander.
During her career, she was an evidence collection technician, among others, and a traffic safety specialist, which was an area she was keenly interested in.
She took on all safety and traffic-related duties, and her efforts and coordination resulted in the EPD’s becoming recognized across the state for its accomplishments in traffic safety. The EPD has been ranked number one in that area for the last few years.
During the last several years, Thomas has been working on the area’s first mobile force team, consisting of specially trained officers assigned to civil arrest situations.
This has involved securing all the necessary equipment, training and coordination with other allied agencies to help with a regional response team.
“Some of Thomas’ accomplishments will always be attributed to this agency and the great service it provides,” Cpl. George T. Larrimore, who was serving as master of ceremonies, said.
“Law enforcement has truly been a rewarding career for me,” Thomas said. “I’ve locked up bad guys and girls. I’ve met more people than I could ever begin to count.”
“I’ve picked up a few nicknames along the way that will probably stick with me for life,” she said. “Most of you know I moved on four days after my retirement as Director of Public Safety for Chesapeake College,” she said. “And the first week I was there, somebody hollered down the hallway, ‘Is that Radar Rhonda?’ You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“A couple of the other names I picked up were Momma Bear and Queen Bee,” Thomas said.
“Chief Blessing, thank you for taking a chance on me and giving me that opportunity back in 1992,” she said. “I hope I made you proud.”
“Chief Spencer, I’ve got to thank you. You know you really pushed me these last seven years. But I grew for it. I also want to thank you for everything that you are doing for me now, up at the college and training,” Thomas said. “And helping me out with equipment and stuff. I think we are turning things around.”
She thanked her family and a long list of mentors, including Capt. Greg Wright, retired Capt. Robert Hobbs, Lt. Mark Hrobar, retired Lt. Mike Henry and retired Sgt. David Sears.
“Thank you for making me the officer I am today,” she said. “The novice training and ethics that I learned from each of you. I made it through the ranks, I retired. I made it.”
“I’ve moved on to Chesapeake College where I can say I’m actually using those things,” Thomas said.
“To all my brothers and sisters in blue, it’s been a wild ride and I miss you guys,” she said.
M/Sgt. Edward Patrone came to the EPD in 1995, a graduate of the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy. He retires with 22 years on the force.
He spent several years in the Patrol Division before branching out to eventually become a supervisor in the department’s Community Outreach Division, Narcotics Unit, and the Criminal Investigations Unit.
He was a S.W.A.T. team leader for several years and a field training officer in the Patrol Division, and was also a founding member of the department’s mobile field force unit.
Patrone paved the way for some serious crime fighting when he wrote the first crime control grant for the EPD, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars used to combat “hot spots” in the town where major crimes were occurring.
Patrone’s original grant writing was used as a template for many years, and other members followed in his footsteps, procuring funds allotted from the state for concentrated crime control.
During his time on the force, Patrone achieved a master’s degree in justice studies from the Grand Canyon University.
“Every day you came to work and I worked for you for many years, you were always positive,” Larrimore told Patrone during the program. “Whenever we did something good, there was a pat on the back. You never missed an opportunity to tell us, ‘Good Job’.”
“After the chief hired me, he said, ‘Are you going to be here for your career, or are you going to leave?’ I said, ‘Sir, Im going to have my career in Easton’,” Patrone recalled from his job interview with Chief Blessing. “I kept my promise to that.”
Patrone also thanked current Chief David Spencer for his mentoring, and fellow officers retiring Capt. Mark Waltrup, Cpl. Brian Doyle, Capt. Greg Wright, Lt. Mark Hrobar, and Lt. Brandon Bobbick, among others, Mayor Bob Willey and the town.
He said the job had been stressful, particularly for his family.
He recalled one time that while he was at work, police officers from Hurlock, apparently looking for some criminals, pulled into his driveway and his wife thought they were coming to tell her something had happened to him.
“These are the kinds of stresses that I think goes on with a lot of people with their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancees,” Patrone said. “But I love my career, I’m now a court commissioner, still working with police officers, and I’m going to miss all of you.”
“I have one more thing to add,” Larrimore said. “We haven’t had a day in the building that someone hasn’t said, ‘Man, I miss Ed Patrone’.”
Sgt. John Coleman was a 1991 rookie, according to Larrimore, and retired with 25 years of service in Easton. His last day at EPD was Aug. 31.
Coleman came to the EPD from the Denton Police Department in October 1991, working for several years before leaving for a short stint back with Denton.
He returned to Easton in 1996 and was assigned to the patrol division before he was given an opportunity to pursue his passion as a full time D.A.R.E. instructor.
D.A.R.E. — Drug Abuse Resistance Education — is a program for schoolchildren that helps them lead lives free of substance abuse, violence, and other dangerous behaviors, usually taught by a police officer.
Coleman embraced his role, mentoring young people, and even developed a D.A.R.E. song, based loosely on the tune of “Daisy Dukes” by 69 Boyz that was popular in 1993.
He said he didn’t like the lyrics of that original song, so he made up some new ones and he called his new song the “D.A.R.E. Rap.”
Coleman, the singing police officer, left a mark in the minds of his students that went way farther than substance abuse prevention.
His former D.A.R.E. students greet him wherever he goes. At least one new police officer at EPD said he got into law enforcement because of an early relationship with a D.A.R.E officer.
Eventually the D.A.R.E. program was taken on by another agency, and Coleman went back out on patrol. He served on EPD’s accident reconstruction unit but still found time to work on events involving children, especially spearheading the toy drive for underprivileged kids during the holidays and Shop with a Cop.
He’s been called upon as a public speaker for many topics, law enforcement, care and ethics among them.
News of his singing ability has spread far and wide. Coleman sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at his daughter’s Easton High School graduation in 2016, and more recently, he sang the national anthem at an Orioles game.
“I thank God for my great career,” Coleman said.
“I thank God for the opportunities to work with the kids of this county, and I thank you, Chief Edward Blessing, for taking a chance on me,” he said. “I’m not sure you wanted to. I think you were somewhat talked into it, but I’m glad you did.”
“And I would say, awesome sir, I hope I made you proud.” Coleman said.
Coleman and Larrimore reminisced about Coleman’s time in the force. Larrimore recalled that as a young man that Coleman had stopped him and gave him his first warning.
Larrimore said that Coleman made frequent appearances at his criminal justice classes that were taught by Coleman’s wife, Barbara Coleman.
“Then years later I get hired by the Easton Police Department and my very first squad was led by Tony Thomas and Cpl. John Coleman,” Larrimore said.
As Coleman retired last year, he was asked by the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office to apply for their D.A.R.E. officer position. Coleman applied, and now, the D.A.R.E. Rap is being sung again in Talbot County.
“I leaped at the chance to do it because my love is kids,” Coleman said. “Christ is my personal savior, but I love kids.”
“Chief, thank you so much for sending John my way,” Sheriff Joe Gamble said. “I’ve been to a couple of D.A.R.E. graduations and the kids just love him.”
Two of the retirees were not present for the program — Capt. Mark R. Waltrup and Sgt. James R. Miller.
Waltrup has relocated to Wyoming, so could not be present, but he originally came to the EPD in 1993, and served 24 years on the force.
He was assigned to the patrol division before being transferred to the criminal investigations unit where he spent most of his career, rising to detective, then to supervisor of the unit.
He became commander of the Special Operations Unit, then deputy chief. He was also involved in special units such as evidence collection and the field training officer’s program.
Waltrup was a graduate of the F.B.I. National Academy. He also attended polygraph school and became the second certified polygraph examiner in EPD’s history.
He spent several years teaching polygraph techniques in the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy at Wor-Wic Community College.
In his work with the EPD S.W.A.T. team, Waltrup received two awards for apprehending an armed gunman inside a home. He was also a S.W.A.T. team leader.
Sgt. James Miller retired on July 31, 2017 ,after 22 years. He came to the EPD in 1995 after working for the Hurlock Police Department. Beginning his career in the Patrol Division as a K-9 officer, Miller also spent time in the community outreach division, criminal investigation division as a detective and years later became that unit’s supervisor. He took advanced training throughout his career and is a 2008 graduate of Kaplan University with a degree in criminal justice.
Miller was a member of the honor guard, the hostage negotiation team, a field training officer, and was instrumental in implementing the Crisis Prevention Team.
One area that Miller was especially proud of was his work with the Eastern Shore Police Association, also known as Camp ESPA.
Camp ESPA’s main function is to send underprivileged youth to a camp in Dorchester County that is staffed by police officers who interact with the children in a safe environment.
Each of the EPD retirees who were present during the program were given a Sheriff’s Salute from Gamble, and kudos from the Maryland General Assembly presented by Sen. Adelaide Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore, and Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Talbot.
The Easton Police Department presented them with a framed shadowbox containing all their patches, badges, ribbons and awards, a large framed EPD logo signed by their fellow officers and their original weapon, decommissioned.
Those present to congratulate them included Easton Mayor Robert Willey and town council members, families, friends and fellow officers.