Laying down the badge


He looks around the room with a soft smile.

The helmet from his late father’s firefighting gear is perched on a shelf above his desk, casting a shadow over the piles of papers and family photos below. A newspaper clipping from the day he moved into this office is pinned to the wall next to even more photographs.

John Jester goes by many names to the people smiling out of these frames.

Father. Husband. Grandpa. Friend. Chief of Police.

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After 24 years with Greenfield Police Department — eight of which he served as its leading officer — Jester recently announced he plans to retire.

The 47-year-old Greenfield native, who oversees a staff of 42 — about half of which he has hired — will step down from his post Sept. 19 to take a position as a security manager for Community Health Network.

A replacement will be appointed by Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell, who said he plans to speak with department leaders in the coming weeks before making a recommendation to the Greenfield Board of Public Works and Safety.

In his years with the department, Jester has served in a number of capacities, including as its head of investigations before accepting the chief’s position in February 2008. Jester said he has loved every minute of serving his community, but the new position presented an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

Sitting behind the desk in the chief’s office Saturday morning, feet kicked up and hands tucked behind his head, Jester admitted he’s excited to start this next chapter in his life. He glanced around, taking in the memorabilia dotting his walls and sharing stories about his tenure on the police force.

It’s going to take weeks to pack all the stuff away, he joked.

Jester can’t remember exactly what made him want to become a police officer, but it was a seed planted at a young age.

“Even when I was a kid, and we played cops and robbers, I was always a cop,” he said with a laugh.

Jester joined the Greenfield Police Department as a reserve office in 1989 and took his first full-time position with the Fortville Police Department in 1991. A year later, he returned to Greenfield to work full time and never left.

For 24 years, he climbed the ranks of the department, learning every inch of the department and holding nearly every rank available.

He moved into the chief’s office in 2008 after being appointed by then-Mayor Brad DeReamer. He was 39 years old at the time — young when compared to leadership most police departments see, Jester said.

But Jester was hardworking and eager to give back to the community that raised him, DeReamer said, and it was that drive and determination that led the former mayor to choose Jester for the top job.

DeReamer said that over his term as mayor, he watched proudly as Jester set a successful and compassionate tone for his officers that promoted fairness and respect on both sides of the badge. DeReamer has followed Greenfield’s development since leaving his post as mayor in 2012, and he’s pleased to see Jester lasted in the chief’s office for so long, continuing to harbor good police work and positive relationships with the community, he said.

Being a police chief was rarely been an easy job, Jester said, though he recognizes it gave him opportunities most wouldn’t receive.

He’s shaken the hands of presidents, provided security for rock and country music stars, and represented the community during trips to Greenfield’s sister city in Kakuda, Japan.

He’s helped send murderers to prison, arrested more drunken drivers than he can count and once saved the life of a newborn who was choking on its formula.

As chief, he helped create the county’s first dive team, expanded the K9 and investigations unit to add more personnel and hired three women to a department long-dominated by men.

The most trying time, he said, came in 2010 when Greenfield Patrolman Will Phillips was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Henry County while training for the department’s bike team.

Phillips was the first officer in the Greenfield department’s history to be killed in the line of duty, making it uncharted territory for everyone involved, Jester said.

He did his best to lead while his officers grieved, while he mourned right alongside them. It was horrible, he said. But light shines brightly in the darkest times.

“I think I saw a sense of unity in the police department that had never been there before,” Jester said, noting that he hopes that feeling of togetherness remains as his leaves the department.

His friends in blue say it will, and they will continue to push the department forward in Jester’s stead.

Greenfield police Detective Lt. Randy Ratliff said he and Jester met decades ago, before either was a full-time officer. They were working at local grocery store at the time and forged a friendship over a shared dream of joining the law enforcement family.

Ratliff and Jester worked side by side for more than 20 years, and Ratliff filled Jester’s post as head of the investigations unit when Jester took over as chief.

Though he’s sad to see Jester go, Ratliff is glad his longtime colleague is on to a new adventure. He’ll miss the day-to-day interactions the most, he said, swapping stories and memories of old cases and old times.

Bob Young, who retired from the Greenfield Police Department as a lieutenant in 2015, said he found great joy in watching Jester grow to be the community leader he is today. Young remembers watching Jester as a boy, running around the parking lots between the police department and Greenfield Fire Department, where Jester’s father, the late Doyle Jester, served as the fire chief.

Young supervised Jester when he was a rookie police officer and watched as he climbed the ranks quickly and with ease. He wasn’t a bit surprised when Jester was chosen for the top job, he said.

“I’m sure his dad was proud,” Young said.

Jester asked Fewell to allow him to have some input on his successor, saying he’s eager to be a resource for whoever is chosen to fill the chief’s seat next.

Fewell said he hopes to put a selection committee in place in the coming weeks but has not created a formal timeline for choosing a new police chief. It’s a careful process, he said, and one of the most important appointments any mayor can make.

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Age: 47

Years with the Greenfield Police Department: 24

Years as chief of police: 8

Family: Wife, Ronda; children, Joshua, Jordan and Jenna; grandson, Jase

Education: Graduate of Greenfield-Central High School, 1987; graduate of Vincennes University with associate’s degree in law enforcement, 1989; graduate of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, 1990.

Other community service: Worked for the Hancock County Coroner’s office for 16 years; joined as a deputy coroner in 1992 and was elected coroner in 2000.