Retired Fisher recalls nearly five decades of police service
Whitehall had been a city for less than 20 years when Harlin Fisher first climbed into a police cruiser for the Whitehall Division of Police in 1965.
Deadly riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles and escalation of American troops in Vietnam topped the headlines, and the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" dominated the airwaves.
Nearly five decades later, Fisher has retired from the Whitehall Division of Police.
Fisher, a 1954 graduate of Gahanna Lincoln High School, retired March 28, having served since 1998 as the department's fleet and property manager. He has served in the patrol bureau as a police officer, field-training officer or detective from 1965 to 1998, but also as the fleet and property manager since 1984.
"It was a great experience, and I saw many changes, of course," said Fisher, who lives in the New Albany area with his wife of 57 years, Jeannette. The Fishers have three adult sons and a daughter, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Upon graduation, Fisher did not envision a career in law enforcement. He worked for several years at the Columbus Clay Manufacturing Co. before choosing to take a civil-service examination to become a police officer. Fisher took exams for the Columbus Division of Police and the Whitehall Division of Police and joined the Whitehall division in July 1965.
Fisher was given badge No. 27, indicating he was the 27th officer to join the division since the city of Whitehall had been founded 18 years earlier, in 1947.
Fisher was paid $320 a month upon his hire.
"There wasn't overtime either, or (compensation for having to go to court)," said Fisher, whose job largely entailed learning as he went along.
Unlike today, officers then were not required to graduate from an arduous and lengthy academy; rather officers passed a civil-service examination and received training in the field.
"It took me about a year to get familiar with all the streets and places" and to adjust to a more urban setting than the countryside, where he had been raised as a child, he said.
Fisher recalled his early days as a busy time, especially on Saturday nights, when bars and taverns in Whitehall were filled with revelers from neighboring Columbus, where "Blue laws" of the time period required bars to close by midnight.
Still in existence in some parts of the country, particularly the Bible belt, so-called Blue laws prohibited the sale of alcohol on Sundays, God's day, thus last call at Columbus bars was about 11:30 p.m. every Saturday.
"A lot of the riffraff from Columbus came to all the bars here, and it seemed like there was a fight at one place or another every Saturday night," Fisher said.
Those places include such long-gone establishments as Pete's Red Pig, at East Main Street and South Hamilton Road; the Boathouse Bar, at East Main Street and Beechwood Road; Emils, at East Main Street and Ross Road; and the Beverly Drive-In, also at Main and Hamilton.
"Every weekend we had a full jail," Fisher said, adding that back then, offenders would be held on drunk-and-disorderly and other minor offenses -- not necessarily arrested but kept overnight in the department's basement holding cells.
Fisher recalled another time early in his patrol career in which he was involved in three high-speed pursuits in a one-week period.
In one instance, the driver doubled back on Collingwood Avenue before bailing on foot.
"I had lost radio contact but didn't know it because my cord had wrapped up in the steering column," Fisher said.
Columbus police arrested the suspect.
Fisher returned the favor that week, chasing down a fleeing suspect on a section of freeway. Whitehall officers drive a Plymouth Fury with far superior horsepower than many other police departments' cruisers, Fisher said.
If Fisher had any regrets in his career, it might be that he didn't take a sergeant's examination, he said.
"Back then, the pay differential between an officer and a sergeant was only about $50 (a month), and I just didn't think it was enough for all the additional responsibility," Fisher said.
After his retirement from the patrol bureau in 1998, Fisher was rehired as the department's fleet and property manager. He managed maintenance and repair records for the department's fleet of cruisers and inventoried property impounded or confiscated, as well as physical evidence.
"There were a lot of weapons," Fisher said.
Former Whitehall Mayor John Wolfe worked the streets with Fisher until 1969, after which Wolfe had stints as safety director, service director and mayor. Wolfe recalled Fisher as a conscientious and dedicated officer.
"Harlin did a great job for us in all his different jobs," Wolfe said.
Fisher said his retirement plans, aside from having more time for his family, includes fishing at Lake Erie and trips to Las Vegas.
Despite the slim odds of winning, Fisher's favorite game is craps, he said.
"I love throwing the dice," he said.