If you ask William “Billy V” Visalden about the path he followed to become Sheffield Village's new police chief, he'd tell you two things. First is that he was given opportunities along the way and made the best of them, and second, titles aren't that important unless the title is “teacher.”
As a little kid being raised by a single father in South Lorain in the 1970s, Visalden had a fleeting thought of becoming a police officer.
He remembers his dad working long shifts at the steel mill, so family members and friends kept an eye on him. His grandma lived a few doors down and aunts were on nearby streets. He remembers some would walk him home from school. “He was a single dad in the ’70s,” he said. “Who ever heard of that?”
At age 6, Visalden began playing baseball and any thought of becoming a cop was replaced with dreams of playing professional baseball. He excelled as a pitcher while playing several other sports through middle and high school.
As he played, his dad watched. “My dad was a big supporter of my life. He worked all the time, but he never missed anything.” His father worked rotating shifts at the steel mills 32 years before retiring and Visalden's admiration for the 16-year-old boy who left Puerto Rico not knowing English, driven by an opportunity to work, is evident.
Visalden's skill as a pitcher led to his selection for a coveted spot on a traveling baseball team coached by local insurance agent Bill Tippie. Visalden recalled that Tippie had a van to provide rides to and from their road games because the kids lacked their own transportation. It was not unusual for four or five ball players to spend the night at Tippie's home so they could pile into his van early the next morning for out-of-town weekend tournaments.
“We ate and slept baseball. It was baseball every day and, dammit, we were good,” he said about the American Legion traveling team Tippie coached.
When hoped-for tryouts with pro teams did not pan out, Visalden went to work for Lorain County Metro Parks, first in maintenance, then as a park ranger. His position as a ranger required that he attend the police academy to become a certified peace officer.
It changed the course of his path because a short time later, he found himself meeting with then-Chief Don Sayers to discuss a job with the Sheffield Village Police Department. Visalden laughs describing the interview because it occurred at 11 p.m. to accommodate their work schedules. When offered, Visalden seized the opportunity to join the department.
He remembers the retired chief and former Marine advised him, “You're coming in as a reserve officer. If you want to advance, if you want to be good, you must put in more time than anybody else.”
For the next two decades, that is exactly what he did. In time, he was promoted to sergeant. He worked stints in the detective bureau, as school resource officer, the Lorain County SWAT team and the U.S. Marshals Violent Fugitive Task Force.
He says others taught him what they knew so he'd be successful. He always remembers that and returns the favor by sharing his “awe” moments – “someone hiring you and giving you a job; sitting in a police car and thinking, 'I'm in a police car by myself!' ”
He vividly remembers a radio call about a gunman with a criminal history heading their way. “Let's go get the guy with the gun,” rookie Visalden said to his training officer.
“That was truly life changing,” he said. Visalden and his TO followed the suspect along I-90 with orders to not engage until backup arrived. When the suspect suddenly stopped the car in the middle of the highway and jumped out, they also jumped out and took shelter behind the vehicle's doors. Ultimately, they took the suspect into custody without incident. Visalden knows how lucky they were that day. “You can tell me whatever you want on the phone or radio, but you truly don't know what you're dealing with until you get there.” Only after the highway incident did the risk they took hit him. He tells the story to young officers and describes all the feelings an officer experiences when approaching a stopped car.
Chief Larry Bliss tapped Visalden to become captain in 2013, making him second in command of the department. Bliss said Visalden knows and has done every aspect of the job. “He's done it all; he stands out,” he said, adding, “He's a great person and has a great network in the community and with other police departments.”
Visalden, who turns 51 later this year, is a bit more circumspect. “You know, I didn't ask for this job,” he said. “Someone gave the young Puerto Rican boy from South Lorain an opportunity. I think I've taken this opportunity and made the best of it I possibly could.”
Visalden will continue to stress the importance of providing guidance to those who follow in the job. He says he is chief, thanks, in part, to what he learned from others.
“I expect that from others moving forward,” he said. “Leadership is showing those who follow the things that we know so they become even better at their jobs than we were.”
Michele Murphy is a freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.