Hail to the chief: Seace retires from Lititz police

By on March 30, 2016

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Chief William R. Seace will sit at his desk in the Lititz Police Department for the final time this Friday, and thus the curtain falls on a storied 37-year career in local law enforcement.

Friends, family and fellow officers toasted his retirement during an emotional send-off party at the General Sutter Inn ballroom last Thursday. It was an evening of reminiscing with honored guests, including his father Edwin and son Shane.

“This is overwhelming,” said the humble chief, who is a man of few words when asked to talk about himself.

He thanked “his guys,” the men and women of his police force, for being what he calls the heart and soul of the community. And he thanked his pop.

“Dad, I love you,” he said. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“We love you, Billy!” someone shouted from the other side of the Wedgewood Room. Applause erupted.

“It’s really been wonderful,” the chief continued. “I remember the first day I came here, 36-plus years ago. I just can’t believe the years went by that quickly. I’m not going too say much. I can’t say much, because it will bring tears to my eyes. I just want to thank you all for coming here and sharing a moment with me.”

Chief William Seace (left) and Det. Sgt. John Schofield at the chief's retirement party, held at the General Sutter Inn March 24. (Photos by Stan Hall)

Chief William Seace (left) and Det. Sgt. John Schofield at the chief’s retirement party, held at the General Sutter Inn March 24. (Photos by Stan Hall)

The chief’s decision to retire was prompted by the unexpected deaths of his sister Shirley two and a half years ago, and brother George in December. He’ll be 66 in June and wants to do some traveling, starting with a Florida fishing trip and a motorcycle ride to the Grand Canyon.

The Record Express sat down with him in the Lititz Police Department conference room a few weeks ago to talk about his career and his future. Much of his past three months has been busy with paperwork and office adjustments in preparation for the department’s transition of leadership to new Chief Kerry Nye, but he took a few minutes to reflect on how much has changed since he first donned a Lititz badge in 1979.

The size of the department has more than doubled in that time, from six to 13 police officers. Back then, Lititz police shared a one-room office in the fire hall. Today, they have their own building. Back then, they wore gray uniforms and state police campaign hats, and Officer Seace was “about 145 pounds.” He remembers his first day on the job as “non-eventful” as he patrolled the area in training with Officer Ron Sandhaus. He was 29 at the time, and had a lot to learn about Lititz. And the best way to learn is to be on the street, interacting with the public.

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Some of his favorite characters from the “old days” include Bill Bell, who used to walk in front of Chief George Hicks while he was checking parking meters on Main Street.

“Bill would drop quarters into the meters so people wouldn’t get tickets,” Seace laughed. “He wasn’t doing it to be a smart aleck; he had a kind heart.”

And Walt Popejoy, who kept the Benner’s soda fountain open for five-cent coffee for years.

“It was a great place for people to shoot the bull,” Seace said. “It was fun.”

And, of course, Bingy. Lester Bingeman’s restaurant next to the railroad tracks was the pulse of the community for many years.

“He’d come to work at 4 or 4:30 in the morning,” Seace recalled. “As soon as he turned the lights on, you knew the coffee was brewing. People came in two hours before he was even open to hang out. I would sit there and learn the history of Lititz. The heartbeat of Lititz was right there at Bingy’s Restaurant, and at Walt Popejoy’s place. I miss those places.”

(Front row, sitting, left to right) retired Chief Jim Fritz, retired Officer Charlie Shenenberger, and retired Officer Leroy Emmerrich. (Back row, l-r) Officer Tyler Weinhold, Officer Justin Miller, Sgt. Stephen Detz, Chief William Seace, Officer Chris Armato, Sgt. Jared Hahn, Det. Sgt. John Schofield, and Officer Ken Wolfe.

(Front row, sitting, left to right) retired Chief Jim Fritz, retired Officer Charlie Shenenberger, and retired Officer Leroy Emmerrich. (Back row, l-r) Officer Tyler Weinhold, Officer Justin Miller, Sgt. Stephen Detz, Chief William Seace, Officer Chris Armato, Sgt. Jared Hahn, Det. Sgt. John Schofield, and Officer Ken Wolfe.

But times change, and so do the challenges of a community police force.

“Traffic is worse than ever, and I don’t see it getting any better,” is one of Seace’s local concerns.

He also points out that the popularity of Lititz, as positive as that may be, is a huge burden on services such as public works, fire companies, ambulance crews, and police departments.

“Fire & Ice, for example, brought 15,000 people to town, and we weren’t necessarily prepared for that,” he said. “Thirteen officers aren’t that many for 15,000 people.”

But these are good problems for a community to have, in some ways. The surge of drug abuse, especially heroin, and related crimes is perhaps the biggest challenge for local leaders.

“We’re losing kids at an alarming rate,” he said. He praised local organizations like ASAP for raising awareness, and for the Warwick School District’s recent decision to have Narcan, which can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, on hand. In addition, Lititz police are working with the school district to put an SRO (resource officer) in the high school, which is close to reality and a great source of pride of Seace.

He also said domestics and cell phone related crimes are on the rise, keeping local police busy.

But as the chief heads off for that fishing trip and cycle adventure, he’ll never forget his fellow officers. A few of the entrenched memories

He’ll never forget the day Officer Jevon Miller was shot while trying to issue a warrant to Daniel Faust in November of 2005.

He’ll never forget the day Chief Doug Shertzer pulled away from the police garage on the department’s new motorcycle and was killed in a tragic accident minutes later.

He’ll never forget the unexpected death of Det. Joe Kilgore, the office perfectionist who also had great disdain for bananas.

He’ll remember the good times, the bad times, the practical jokes, and the family that was his Lititz Police Department for nearly 37 years.

“As far as what I’m gonna do, and where I’m gonna go … who knows?” he said as his retirement party drew to a close. “I just hope we made a positive impact.”

Stephen Seeber is the associate editor of the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes reader comments and questions at sseeber.eph@lnpnews.com or 717-721-4423.

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