Burkholder Ready to Take on His New Role as Police Chief

by Paua McKibben   Ryan Burkholder is the new Bluffton Police Chief. He’s young, around 38, but has more experience and background than his age denotes.
   For instance, when we got together for his interview, he already had printed out for me a resume of experience and education – he was planning ahead.
   He graduated from BHS in 1997, worked in a couple of factories, took some college classes and then joined the Marines in April 1999.
   In the Marines, he was a sergeant and was deployed to Kuwait in 2003 as part of the first invasion into Iraq, staying in Baghdad.
   On his return, he worked for Bluffton College security and took Ohio Police Officer Training at Owens Community College, earning an associates in criminal justice science in 2005. In 2009, he earned a bachelors in criminal justice and criminal justice administration from Tiffin University. He added his masters to this resume in 2011, also from Tiffin University.
   During all of this education, he was employed full time with the Bluffton Police Department.
   Additionally, he became a certified firearms instructor, taser instructor, radar/lidar instructor, crime scene investigator, field training officer, and mental health officer (CISM). He was also certified in M16/AR-15 armor.
   Whew! Add to this his wife of 17 years, Kelli, and their three children, Kaitlyn, R. Matthew and Grace, and one has to wonder how he was able to accomplish all that he did. The answer is one word – Kelli. According to Ryan, she put a career on hold and took all of the responsibility for the children so that Ryan could work on his classes and be away from home to attend training sessions for licenses.
   Before he began this mad rush to become a highly educated and trained police officer and before he had even graduated from high school,  Ryan was riding in the police car with Patrolman Lonny Kent. As a junior in high school, Ryan thought that he might enjoy police work.   According to Ryan, his mother was not entirely in favor of this, so she asked Lonny if he wouldn’t let Ryan ride with him. Ryan thinks his mother was hoping that a ride in the car at night might be enough to deter him from pursuing this occupation. However, he said his mom’s plan “backfired.” After one evening with Lonny, “he was hooked.” Ryan says he liked police work because “every day is not the same.”
   Being police chief really adds new dimensions to his job. According to Ryan, his goal as chief is “to maintain the level of service that the community has grown to expect and add my own touch of walking down Main Street and talking to people.” He says that he learns so much by doing this, especially at the Senior Center. It only takes a minute to listen to their stories, and the stories are so interesting. He likes to stop at a store and ask, “What can I do for you?” Maintaining “good strong communication skills” are imperative to his job. “I would like the community to know that it is a great honor and privilege to serve at this capacity.”
   With his new position, he plans to continue programs begun by previous chief Skilliter like the EMS training for all, the Safety Pup program, and a high level of other training to provide the officers with opportunities to explore and specialize. And, like Skilliter, he realizes that being a police officer requires a special understanding because “we deal with people in the worst moments of their lives.”
   However, he hopes to expand to include a school resource officer and is encouraging his officers to interact with the youth of the community in some capacity, especially coaching, to create role models and capitalize on life lessons. Other changes will probably be based on state mandates regarding levels of training, cultural diversity, mental health and drugs.For instance, last year, the state required 11 hours of training. This year that has been bumped to 20 hours, with a goal of 40 hours per year eventually. Though the training is good for the officers, it definitely limits the number of part-time officers who will be available because these officers have other jobs from which they may not be allowed any time to take police training or they may have to use up their entire vacation to take training.
   Ryan sees his biggest problem right now as accidents on I-75. With the construction, I-75 is so unpredictable. People are distracted by ambulances, police cars and fire trucks which add to the level of danger.
   Ryan will deal with these issues as they come – and, as seen by his preparation for this interview – probably ahead of time.