BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Allan Baer can’t use the nickname “D.C.” anymore, but he’s relying upon the relationships he made during his 4-1/2 years as deputy chief to continue the excellence of the Whitehouse Police Department.
“I don’t have to come in and fix this place. I just need to maintain and tweak and move the bar up,” said Baer, who was named acting chief when Mark McDonough accepted the chief’s job in Sidney, Ohio at the end of December.
Baer was unanimously approved for the role by council, and his appointment as chief is likely in March, Mayor Don Atkinson said.
Hired in August 2018 after serving as chief for North Baltimore, Baer easily slid into the deputy chief role in part because he and McDonough already shared the same core values of policing: honesty, integrity, respect, excellence and professionalism. They had also worked together for the Bowling Green Police Department earlier in their careers, Baer said.
“We laughed a lot, but we got the job done,” Baer said of his time with McDonough. “And he gave me the opportunity to hone my leadership skills, giving me increasing administrative duties over the last few years.”
McDonough said that Baer is the type of chief that is needed today.
“He is firm but fair to his employees, always lends an attentive ear and wants what’s best for his officers and the community they serve,” McDonough said. “He is a knowledgeable, caring and exceptional leader that will take Whitehouse police to new and higher levels. He will teach the next generation of police leaders to take on new opportunities and challenges to provide the services the Whitehouse community has come to expect from its police department. He is hardworking, approachable and truly cares for his employees, village staff and community members.”
A Napoleon native, Baer wrestled and did karate while at Napoleon High School, then enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving for three years before earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bowling Green State University – where he now serves as an adjunct professor for criminal justice classes. After joining Whitehouse, Baer graduated from the Ohio Law Enforcement Found-ation’s Certified Law Enforcement Executive (CLEE) course.
Continuing education is part of the job as a police officer, and this year the department will rack up 2,080 hours in mandated training, plus additional courses based on each officer’s specific skills and interests.
“Growing up, I wanted to chase bad guys and arrest people, but I saw the value of school resource officers, juvenile officers and detectives,” Baer said. “We have people who come in and want to do crime scene investigation, so we’re empowering them and giving them training.”
With the Bureau of Criminal Investigations so inundated with requests, it makes sense to have officers who have more in-depth knowledge on how to handle crime scenes, DNA and photography, he added.
Other officers have expressed an interest in working with dogs. While Whitehouse is unlikely to get a K-9 officer to patrol, Baer said he can see utilizing a dog that would be supportive of victims, children and even the officers.
“Whitehouse doesn’t need or want a patrol dog,” he said. “We want one that the kids can come up and pet.”
Mandatory training includes the Rescue Task Force, comprising area law enforcement and fire/EMS agencies. Working with the schools, the RTF has a plan in place in the event of a large-scale emergency such as a school shooting. The team regularly holds training in the Anthony Wayne Local Schools to plan for different scenarios and how to quickly rescue victims while subduing a perpetrator.
“We’re also training on how to address problems such as swatting – when a caller reports a shooting and we respond and find out it’s a hoax,” he said, referring to a recent incident in Ottawa Hills High School.
All officers are required to take 40 hours of crisis intervention training, learning how to de-escalate a situation to prevent suicides and deal with mental health crises. It’s essential in every town, including White-house, he said.
“The increased number of people in mental health crises is undeniably happening more often, and that falls to the police more often. We are getting more adept at handling those situations,” he said. “Combine that with drug addiction and that becomes infinitely complicated. When we arrive on scene, we have to determine if this is somebody in mental health crisis or is this a substance abuse issue – or is it someone with a mental health problem self-medicating?”
Police, the courts and area mental health service providers are working together better to handle this increase, Baer said.
The focus on mental health also applies to officers, who are exposed to scenes that the average person may never see in a lifetime.
“I’ve probably dealt with 1,000 dead bodies personally. We’re now finally starting to talk about officer resilience. If I’m not healthy physically, emotionally and mentally, I’ll make mistakes and not handle situations as well. We have to be healthy in order to handle mental health issues,” Baer said. “It used to be, ‘Push it down’ or ‘Go home and have a beer.’ Humor also helped. Now, we’re finally focusing on the well-being of our officers.”
While the community might think that criminal apprehension and arrest is a large part of policing – because of TV shows – it’s actually just 22 to 25 percent of an officer’s job. Com-munity policing means being visible at public events and in the school during games or assemblies; directing traffic for area churches and races; offering educational programs like Keeping Our Girls Safe, Safety Town and the Citizens Police Academy; preventative measures like house watches and business watches; and services like fingerprinting for job applications or youth leadership positions, Baer said.
Another aspect of his job is recruiting, hiring and mentoring new officers, and that starts with visibility in the community. Officer Morgan Schuman first learned about the job from Sgt. Brad Baker, who was a school resource officer when she was an Anthony Wayne High School student. The department also offers an intern program for BGSU students in criminal justice.
“Applications nationwide are down 63 percent. Our increased involvement in the community can make a difference in changing that,” Baer said.
A positive social media presence also contributes to the perception of police officers, as they showcase their fun rivalries with the fire department – such as a push-up contest or snowman making – as well as personal stories.
Baer has shared how his daughter, Sarah, an athlete with a master’s degree, is now part of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). His daughter Ashley is a teacher with the Wood County Educational Service Center, and daughter Emily is studying to become a physician’s assistant.
In his spare time, Baer likes to work out, ride motorcycles, hang out with his girlfriend, Dawn Curtis, and play Dungeons and Dragons.
“It’s cool to be a nerd now,” he laughed, explaining that he serves as a dungeon master for a group that meets every two weeks. “It started as a joke, but hey, we’re not out at the bar.”
Sharing some of his personal life is one way to connect to the residents, who are always welcome to stop by and chat, Baer said, pointing to a coffee maker and set of chairs in his office.
“We have a great relationship with the community. We’re blessed. People drop off snacks and say hello,” he said. “I welcome anyone to stop by for coffee and to talk.”