Grove City police Chief Jeff Pearson was driving on Stringtown Road recently, heading to the Interstate 71 exit, when he began reflecting on his early days as a patrol officer for the department.

"I worked third shift and spent a lot of time patrolling the Stringtown Road area," he said. "I could remember the feeling of satisfaction I got, a feeling that I was there to help protect the clerks who were working the night shift, the businesses that were closed and residents who were at home asleep."

The dedication to serve and protect the public has never left him during his quarter century with Grove City, he said.

But now, Pearson is leaving.

Pearson, 53, is retiring effective July 27 after 26 years with the Grove City Division of Police.

He started his law-enforcement career working as a military police officer in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

He joined Grove City's department in September 1992 as a patrol officer and was promoted to sergeant in 1996. He became a captain in April 2011.

Pearson was named interim police chief in August 2015 after Steve Robinette retired and was sworn in as chief in February 2016.

He will start a new position July 30 as training coordinator with the Hilliard Division of Police.

"It's a bittersweet time for me," Pearson said. "I'll miss Grove City. You develop a connection to a city when you work there for so long. It gives you a sense of purpose to feel like you've been able to make a difference in the community."

The position in Hilliard "will be a transitional job for me, to slow down a bit before I would fully retire," he said.

Grove City Mayor Richard "Ike" Stage said Pearson will be missed.

"He's done an outstanding job," Stage said. "We have a great core of police officers and that says a lot about Chief Pearson's leadership and past leaders of the department."

The city's police force in 2018 received its highest community satisfaction grade, with 98 percent of respondents rating it as excellent or good. This is the highest rating recorded since the city's biennial community survey began in 1992, according to city records.

That result is another testament to Pearson's leadership and his effort to improve the connection between the police department and the community, Stage said.

"I attribute most of that rating to the effort made by our officers," Pearson said. "We have an outstanding group of officers who work hard to protect our community.

"Community policing has always been our department's approach, but it's something we've put even more emphasis on in recent years," he said.

"I look at how our officers relate to the public as being like customer service. The more positive interaction we can have with the public, the better that helps us by the public understanding what we do and being more willing to help us," he said.

When he became chief, Pearson decided to eliminate the deputy-chief position and add a third lieutenant position.

"We were looking to create a more efficient staffing situation and flatten the organization so that we could spread the work out," he said.

The reorganization allowed the department to create a special-operations bureau, which focuses on theft and drug incidents, especially at the city's retail stores.

"With all the stores we have in our city, we have had quite an issue with shoplifting and that kept our patrol officers often tied up responding to theft reports at stores," Pearson said.

The members of the special operations bureau focus much of their time patrolling and responding to incidents at stores along Stringtown Road and other retail centers, he said.

"Thefts often go hand in hand with drugs -- the thieves are stealing things to help support their drug habit," Pearson said. "Since we started the special operations team, we've seen a reduction in the number of thefts from stores and from vehicles as well."

The bureau has contributed to a more effective partnership with loss prevention officers at stores, he said.

Stage said a decision of who will serve as interim chief has not been made, but it will be made by Assistant City Administrator/Safety Director Bill Vedra.

The choice of a permanent replacement for Pearson will be made "in-house," Stage said.