REYNOLDSVILLE — After Feb. 4, Ralph August will no longer be a member of the Reynoldsville police department.
It will be the first time in 39 years that he will not be on the force.
August, known as “Tucker” to most people, is set to retire. He has been the police chief since 1987, and an officer in the borough since 1972. During the past four decades, August has, in most respects, been living out his dream.
His parents owned a restaurant in town. They retired to Florida, anticipating young Tucker to take over the family business.
“I told my father, ‘No,’ because I had this thing about being a police officer,” August said. “When you have something that you want really bad, you just have to go after it.”
Go after it he did. When August was 21, he was hired to be a part-time officer. Soon afterwards, he was moved to a full-time position, which he occupied for the next 15 years until he was instated as the police chief.
One of his most memorable instances occurred during that 15-year interlude.
There was a murder on Brown Street, August said, and he pursued the suspect along with a fellow officer. He was given a ride after making it to the fire station, where he is an active member, because he was suspended from duty at the time.
“Me and the mayor, we had our problems,” August explained.
He located the suspect in the Jeff Tech parking lot and held him there until state police arrived on the scene.
“I would have been the arresting officer, but I couldn’t arrest anybody because I was on suspension,” August said with a laugh. “The next day, the mayor reinstated me.”
Though that was an exceptional day, August has derived more pleasure from the day-to-day service and the positive experiences he has had with borough residents and business owners.
“What am I going to miss? Working with the people,” he said. “I had a really good relationship with all of the businesses and all of the people. I’m really going to miss that.
“Even now, I get calls at 2, 3, 4 in the morning to unlock a car. I don’t have to do that. I do it for the people, because otherwise, they would have to pay a locksmith. I know I’m going to miss it. I’ve thought about it quite a bit.”
While speaking of the good relations he has had with town residents, August mentioned working friendships with the state police, county and state agencies and neighboring borough police departments.
“I can’t say anything bad about any of them, and I’ll miss working with them,” he said.
August said numerous times that he has enjoyed every day of service, which leads to the question: Why is he retiring?
“I’ve had some health issues in the past year, and some of them have sort of scared me,” he answered. “I listen to my doctor. He’s been preaching to me to take it easy. Now, I guess it’s time. It kind of hurts me to think that I’ve got to retire. You just can’t go on forever like this with the stress and the time.”
Noting that he is going to spend more time with his family and grandchildren, August said many people in the community have expressed that they are sad to see him go.
“If I were to take a voting poll, I would say they don’t want me to retire,” he said. “I’ve had so many business owners and residents come up and shake my hand and tell me that I did a good job. I hate to think about it (retiring), but it’s coming close.”
August said he was able to do a “good job” as a small town police chief because of a simple philosophy: “Work with the people,” he said.
Of course, the outgoing chief has some advice for the officers and chief who replace him.
“These guys have to understand the community and the problems the people are facing,” he said. “People don’t have jobs. You have to listen to them and understand what they are going through. If you arrest somebody, you have to ask for their side.”
August said he tries to issue warnings instead of fines for traffic violations because he understands how difficult fines can be to pay. He also encourages talking to people involved in disputes rather than arresting them.
“You have to work with them, because they do pay your salary. That’s how I’ve always seen it,” he said. “Then, when something does go down, the people come to you and help you. The people who were there and saw what happened come to you, because they know they can trust you because you are an honest cop.
“You will get a lot more respect if you do that,” he added. “I’ve gone into bars where they were having a fight, and I’ve never had to call in the calvary because they respected me. I’ve been able to look at them and say ‘Sit down and listen,’ and they do because of that respect.”
August now has just under three weeks of service left to fulfill, and he must adjust to the fact that he will not return to the job that he has enjoyed.
“Every time I was suspended, I wanted to come back to work,” he said. “I honestly enjoyed my job. I could have gone other places and done other things. I had a lot of job offers, but I felt I could do more good here in town. I have no regrets about that.”