Elkton Police Chief William Ryan is retiring again – this time for real.
“This will make my fourth retirement,” said Ryan, who has been working almost ceaselessly since his first job “flipping burgers” at age 16 and who, until now, considered retirement just a segue into his next line of work.
After eight years at the helm of the Elkton Police Department, giving him a total of 37 years in law enforcement, Ryan is hanging up his shield. His last day is Friday, the same day that Lt. Matthew Donnelly will assume the role of acting chief until town commissioners hire a permanent replacement.
“It’s been a joke with my friends. They’re asking, ‘Now what are you going to do? Where are you going to work now?” Ryan chuckled.
Well, it might be hard for them to believe but, this time, Ryan is actually going to relax, he said, mentioning off-handedly, “I’d like to get back into golf.”
Plans for his textbook retirement also include Ryan and his wife, Pat, and their three dogs embarking on a sightseeing tour of the United States sometime next year, he added.
Given his five decades in the work force, Ryan certainly deserves to cruise.
Ryan, who was itching to return to law enforcement work after stints in security and private investigation, was hired as the EPD deputy chief in January 2005.
In June 2005, town officials made him acting chief when Rick Poundsberry, his predecessor, left the force. Then in September, two months later, town officials named Ryan chief.
“He has been one of the best police chiefs this town has had in a very long time. He made a lot of positive changes,” said Elkton Mayor Joseph Fisona, noting that, for example, officer training increased during his tenure. “He was a well respected and very respectable police chief.”
Ryan is credited with raising professionalism within the agency, which currently has 41 sworn officers, 10 support staff employees and an annual budget of approximately $5 million, according to Lt. Joseph Zurolo, bureau commander of special operations and EPD spokesman.
A proponent of law enforcement training, Ryan saw three of his lower level supervisors – Lt. Lawrence Waldridge, Donnelly and Zurolo – attend the 10-week-long FBI Academy at that agency’s headquarters in Quantico, Va., and graduate. In 1984, Ryan also graduated from the FBI Academy.
Mindful of establishing and maintaining ties to the community, Ryan was highly supportive of various outreach programs, including the Citizens Police Academy and Junior Police Academy.
According to Zurolo, whether Ryan was serving as an EPD liaison while dealing with the town board of commissioners in a budget meeting or serving as a supervisor giving order to his officers, Ryan was professional and personable.
“He brought strong, knowledgeable leadership to this department. He’ll be missed because he was a valued asset,” Zurolo said.
Zurolo’s relationship with Ryan evolved during the past eight years.
“He came in as chief. Then he became my mentor, and now he is leaving as my friend,” Zurolo summarized.
Part of a large family, Ryan was raised in Baltimore County where, back then, working industrial jobs for Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point or for General Motors or Lever Brothers were the obvious employment routes, he said. His brothers worked at the Bethlehem mill, where his father was a foreman, he added.
But as it turns out, after flipping burgers and working other odd jobs as a teenager, Ryan wound up in the commercial airline industry at Friendship Airport (now BWI) in Baltimore at age 19. One of his main duties was loading luggage and other cargo into the bowels of planes to ensure that minimum and maximum weight requirements were met in every designated section. The equal distribution of weight, a key component of safe flying, was the goal.
“When there wasn’t enough weight, I would have to load ballast to keep a balance,” Ryan recalled.
By his early 20s, however, Ryan set his sight on a law enforcement career, though he didn’t draw inspiration from anyone he knew in that profession.
“I always wanted to be a police officer. I grew up in a disciplined atmosphere,” Ryan said, acknowledging that, on the other side of the coin, a future in the airline industry didn’t seem appealing. “I couldn’t see me getting in and out of the belly of airplanes when I was older.”
Ryan started his law enforcement career with the Baltimore County Police Department on May 18, 1964.
He spent his first three years as a road patrol officer, the start of Ryan’s meteoric rise within that department. After a six-month stint as a detective, Ryan spent about 2 1/2 years in the radio room, a couple of years as a corporal supervising a road crew in Essex and six months as a desk sergeant in Garrison before returning to Essex with a longer list of responsibilities. In 1975, Ryan reached the rank of lieutenant, overseeing a couple of squads at another station. One year later, Ryan was a captain.
“It took me 12 years to go from academy to captain,” noted Ryan, whose career also included stints in special operations, internal affairs and vice & narcotics.
His first retirement – as it were – came in 1993 after 29 years in law enforcement.
“I retired only because I had another job as director of security at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Towson,” Ryan said, noting that he supervised 31 security employees at the 460-bed, 38-acre medical center campus.
Ryan accepted a buyout from the hospital in 1998, after a corporate decision to handle security differently, and he seamlessly jumped into his next job – performing an array of private security work and investigations in a firm started by one of his friends.
He worked that job from 1998 until 2005 when Ryan decided it was time to slow down, by his standards anyway. “I was 62 at that point. I was going to retire,” Ryan said.
But then his longtime friend, Leo Matrangolia, chief of the Bel Air Police Department, told him of a vacant deputy chief position at the Elkton Police Department. The idea of returning to police work struck a positive chord with Ryan.
“After I left the Baltimore County Police Department, I always regretted it. I love police work. I love the camaraderie. You see the real world in law enforcement,” Ryan said, comparing police work to his various security jobs.
Ryan applied for that position in the summer of 2005 and the rest is history.