Many don’t know the duties of a community service officer, a job Rodney Stemen, 85, who recently retired, held for 24 years.
“I was a lot like the old beat cops,” said Stemen, who began with the Westlake Police Department as an unpaid auxiliary member in 1980, volunteering for the department for 16 years. In 1996, he resigned his position as captain of the Westlake Police Auxiliary to become one of three city CSOs. He was 61.
“I would do things the regular patrol officers didn’t want to do or didn’t have time to do,” Stemen said.
Essentially, CSOs handle relatively minor issues such as lockouts and flat tires, said Westlake police spokesman Capt. Gerry Vogel.
“They serve as bailiffs in Rocky River court and are definitely very helpful,” Vogel said.
From the stories he tells, it seems Stemen went beyond the basic duties of a CSO. Like other CSOs, Stemen was a sworn officer, though he did not carry a gun. He did have his own marked car, which he used to roam city streets, looking for places to lend a hand.
“I would handle things that started with folks telling me I don’t want to go down to the station, but did you know… whatever. And those things never made it back to the station. I would take care of it myself as best I could.”
There were some things Stemen wasn’t allowed or supposed to do such as give tickets, make arrests or traffic stops. He admits the latter happened on occasion.
“When I suspected somebody was drunk behind the wheel, I tried to take care of it.”
One such instance became memorable because of the number of utility poles, trees and fire hydrants the suspect driver narrowly missed, Stemen said. At one point, he jumped a curb, drove through part of somebody’s front yard, then fled onto Interstate 90. Stemen gave chase. He called for backup but none was readily available. Eventually a Bay Village officer showed up to help.
“I already had the guy stopped and had him in my car with his feet dangling out by then,” Stemen said.
The Bay Village officer made the arrest.
Stemen said some of his other memorable moments include helping track down three suspects involved in an attempted home break-in in Rocky River. They ended up in Westlake and Stemen got a tip on their whereabouts and helped chase them down.
“A lot of things just involved me being there in case they (police) needed a helping hand,” Stemen said. “There was one situation about a year ago when I had to help an officer take somebody down, somebody who was giving that officer a hard time. Had I not been there, there is a possibility he might’ve gotten away.”
Stemen said he was involved with various community organizations such as the Lions Club, which, for example, provides scholarships for high school students.
“But a lot of times you didn’t see the results,” he said. “As a CSO, you many times saw the good that you did right away… If you walked into a situation, you always try to make it better when you leave, if that’s possible.”
Prior to his work for the Westlake PD, Stemen was employed for 40 years at a total of two chemical plants, including Anchor Chemicals in Westlake. After quitting a job at the chemical plant, Stemen took over an existing doughnut shop, Godfrey’s, on West 117th Street near Halloran Park in Cleveland.
“I’d been a baker all my life,” he said. “I just decided to take the plunge.”
Stemen ran the shop for about two years.
Stemen said his favorite CSO memory happened two days before Christmas, though he couldn’t remember the exact year. He was on I-90 near Crocker Park when he came upon an officer trying to help a stranded woman with two teens in the car change a flat tire. Unfortunately, the driver’s spare was no good. Stemen took the tire to a nearby shop, but it couldn’t be repaired. Stemen spent $150 of his own money to buy a new tire.
“She told me she didn’t have any money to pay me back. I looked at her and said, ‘Merry Christmas.’”
Westlake will not immediately replace Stemen, Vogel said. The police department has room for four CSOs and may get to that number after the pandemic. CSOs are part-time paid city employees.
Stemen occasionally gets philosophical during an interview.
“The thing is in life you do things to make the world better. If we don’t take care of each other in this world, it’s going to be a lousy world. A lot of people have to learn that. They are only interested in themselves.”
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