GREENFIELD — Derek Towle has spent 27 years wearing a Greenfield Police Department uniform.
Day after day, morning after morning, he got up, strapped a pistol to his side, tightened his boots and headed out to serve the city he’s called home for most of his life.
Now, Towle is laying down his badge for good.
The 52-year-old will exchange his long career in law enforcement for one with an engineering firm, and he’s eager to start the next chapter of his life, one that will allow him to spend more time with his three children and his wife, Lana.
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His last day in his office at the police department will be May 26.
In his tenure, Towle held every rank in the department — including nine years as assistant chief — while leading the DARE, SWAT, traffic safety and serious-crash investigation teams.
Twice, he was appointed the interim chief of police, chosen by two different mayors to head the department as city officials searched for a new leader, though he never sought the top job himself.
Instead, he took leadership roles in other ways: Towle also served two terms at a Hancock County Commissioner after completing a stint on the county plan commission.
The work he did on those public boards is more akin to the work he’ll be doing now, he said. The company he’s joining, USI Consulting, works with municipalities across the state to develop and plan their infrastructure. Now, he’ll travel the state to meet with government leaders and help them shepherd various engineering projects, he said.
But he’ll miss working in law enforcement, the opportunities it gave him and the interactions it allowed him to have with the community. He’ll miss the men and women he’s stood shoulder to shoulder with in good times and bad.
“I hope I’ve made an impact on their lives,” Towle said. “I’ve just been blessed; that’s all I can say.”
Growing up, the idea of becoming a police officer always intrigued Towle; but he didn’t initially pursue a career in law enforcement.
He graduated from Purdue University in 1987 with a degree in finance and worked in the business world for a year before deciding he just wasn’t happy.
He quit his job, decided to follow his gut and started applying for positions within area police departments. In February of 1990, he became a reserve officer for Greenfield; in June of the same year, he was hired full time.
He’s been with the Greenfield department ever since, moving quickly through the ranks and serving in almost every position the department had to offer.
He oversaw many of the city’s specialized teams for most of his career, and each came with a different challenge, he said.
Leading the county’s crash-investigations and SWAT teams challenged him mentally and physically. Heading the city’s DARE program challenged him socially, taught him to be gentler and more kind when working with the city’s youth.
Now, the department is handing off those duties to other officers. And they each have big shoes to fill, said Greenfield Police Capt. Brian Guinn.
Guinn and Towle joined the department around the same time and rose through the ranks together. Now, each holds an administrative position, and it will be strange not having Towle in the office next door, Guinn said.
Towle was an asset to the department in many ways, Guinn said. Because he led so many tactical teams, he became an expert in nearly every area of law enforcement. It’s a resource they’ll surely miss, he said.
“He was our go-to guy,” Guinn said. “It’s going to weird without him.”
Towle’s influence has stretched beyond the police station on south State Street, however.
After spending more than six years on the county plan commission, Towle was elected to the Hancock County Board of Commissioners in 2006. He held the seat until 2014, when he was defeated during a re-election bid. It was an interesting time, he said, looking back, and he hopes the decisions he made were ones that made the community a better place for its residents.
His motivation to run for public office was a selfish one, he admits: he wanted the county to be a place where any young person — his own included — would return to after college to settle down and raise a family.
So, he stepped up each time he was asked, hoping to make an impression where he could. And that’s the true mark of Towle’s character, said Mike Fruth, the director of city utilities.
Fruth and Towle became friendly while working on the city’s traffic safety committee together for more than 18 years. In that time, Fruth said he was able to see Towle’s dedication to the community and public safety first had.
“Derek cares,” he said. “He cares about other people, their kids, their safety. He’s always respectful and willing to collaborate.”
As his days in law enforcement come to a close, Towle said soaking up every minute, all good memories. Because he knows: when it’s done, it’s done, and he won’t have the chance to come back.
“Once that last day hits, it will be a tough day,” he said. “I’m still very proud to wear the Greenfield Police Department patch on my shoulder.”