Transcript of the oral interview with Director John Phillips and Deputy Director-Police Services Elizabeth Hopp McGuire conducted by Emily Salvette. The interview, which focused on the development of the Pittsfield Department of Public Safety, took place on March 12, 2006 at a meeting of the Pittsfield Township Historical Society held at the Pittsfield Recreation Center, 701 W. Ellsworth Rd., Ann Arbor. Director Phillips reviewed the transcript in July 2006. The transcript reflects his corrections.
John Phillips, who grew up in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, was 21 years old when he was hired as a patrolman in July 1978. This was shortly after the Police Department was formed during Supervisor Robert Lillie’s administration. Prior to that, police services were handled by Washtenaw County. Director Phillips saw the growth and change in policing as the township grew in population and the department expanded. In 1985, Elizabeth Hopp McGuire, who grew up in Pittsfield Township, was hired onto the force. She was the first woman in the Pittsfield Township police department.
Phillips and McGuire have seen great changes during their years serving Pittsfield Township. For example, the department grew from six employees to 104. They discussed the types of cases handled by the department, administrative changes that have been made to better serve the public, and the changing nature of public safety in the township and the country.
So if you just want me to go ahead and start and give some thoughts to that process, I’d be happy to do it.
One thing some of these numbers are actual numbers, because I went back to my scrapbook that I found in a basement, went back to early reports that we had, early statistics that we were keeping, and if you can kind of put it in this thought process, that in 1980, we had about 12,900 people living in Pittsfield Township. That was in 1980. Ten years prior to that we were only at 8,073 residents. And today we’re close to 34,000 people – a little bit over 34,000 citizens in Pittsfield Township, which reflects about 325 percent increase from the late ‘70s. Yes, I did start in the Department when it was first formed, but I wasn’t one of the original police officers. I replaced one of the original officers that had left to go to the State Police. Since 1978, when I first started, we’ve had over 225 people come through those doors of Pittsfield Township Police Department. Those are police officers, those are auxiliaries, and those are dispatchers. Over 225 people!
So you can see that the people that have come through, some of them went on to bigger and better things. Some of these officers – and we’ll talk about this later in the interview – went back to their hometowns. It was a training ground for us for many, many years in the early days, but it’s not that way today. Today Pittsfield Township Police Department is a career and it’s a career to be proud of, and that doesn’t come without the commitment of the township board, and one of my earliest heroes who is not here with us today but his wife is, and that’s Bob Lillie.
Bob Lillie was the Township Supervisor from I believe 1969 to 1984. In my scrapbook, I have an article from May of 1978 when the department first started and I would like to quote what Bob Lillie said to an Ann Arbor News reporter when the Police Department first started. Quote: “I am truly thankful Pittsfield Township established the Department when they did rather than wait until we become 30 or 40,000 strong and then have to develop a police force when we’re that big.” That’s the Ann Arbor News .
Today look around us. Today look at the townships that don’t have an organized police force and are fighting daily with the County Board of Commissioners in regards to police needs. That man (Mr. Lillie), in my opinion, was a visionary. It’s that man that we owe the success and a credit to beginning a police force. I am here only because of one man and his name is Bob Lillie. In the room on the other side of this wall, I believe you have a fellowship hall or an open area. If you remember the late ‘70s, and I know Doug and Ed will, that used to be divided and there used to be partitioned offices in there. In July of 1978 when I was 21 years old, I met with Mr. Lillie in one of those cubicles and I told him that I wanted to be a police officer. I knew I wanted to be a police office since I was in sixth grade, but I met with Bob Lillie when I was 21 years old about 30 feet from here, and I said “I want to be one of your police officers.” And he took me under his wing, and he said, “John, we’re small enough to be a family now. I don’t know what’s going to happen in another 20 years.” He hired me and he gave me an opportunity to be a part of this agency. It was a pleasure growing up in this agency, being a part of it from the beginning, being part of its origins, and becoming its Director of Public Safety when Doug Woolley hired me in 1998.
But I wasn’t the first Director. I was actually the sixth Director of Public Safety for Pittsfield Township. Our first chief or director...it was a Chief of Police at the time, was Bill Hollifield. He was the very first chief. He served three years, from 1978 to 1981.
And he was followed by a director, John Santomauro. John Santomauro is currently the Director Public Safety in Canton Township, came to us as a 34-year-old Farmington Hills police officer, and he served three years from 1982 to 1985. Chief Santomauro was really the foundation of our agency to start things off right. When he came, we were labeled as a bunch of cowboys back in the late ‘70s, and some in this room remember that. But John Santomauro had a strong military background, strong leadership qualities, and when he came in put some rules and regulations into place, and made some significant personnel changes. I’m proud to this day to say that I was one of his first shift supervisors when I was promoted in 1982. I was able to attend the Police Staff and Command School that was based through Northwestern University. And he was the second Chief of Police but the first Director of Public Safety that the department had.
He was followed, a short time, by Norm Madison who served from 1985 and resigned in November of 1988 under Supervisor Jack Morris. And then they were on the hunt for another Director of Public Safety.
They found that in a man that both Lisa and I have a lot of admiration for. His name is Ray LeCornu. Ray LeCornu came from the city of Wayne after he served as our Public Safety Director. For ten years from 1988 to 1997 he served a our Director of Public Safety. I truly believe that our success today is because of the leadership of Ray LeCornu. The integrity was what he instilled, the very basic principles of honesty, integrity, and credibility became the foundation of the department. Ray LeCornu is the one that...that made good better. We had some good officers; today we have some great officers. But we were growing and along the way we suffering some growing pains throughout this, and he was the one that instilled these basic principles of honesty and credibility into our agency. This made us on par with some of the larger agencies in Washtenaw County, the nine other law enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County, and you could see us settling in, and under Ray LeCornu, people didn’t come for us to just go somewhere else. They came to us and they wanted a career in the Department.
After Director Ray LeCornu had left we had for a very short time another Director of Public Safety who left the agency. This is when Mr. Woolley and I had gotten together and this was when I became the Director of Public Safety. It was in 1998, but it’s not something that I aspired to do at the time.
We had some great bosses along the way, we’ve had some great townships supervisors, we had some wonderful township boards. And its those people that were part of this administration always kept public safety number one. That’s the reason that I stayed, public safety was always number one from the earliest township boards that I can remember. I know it goes earlier than me, but from 1978 on, we’ve had township boards that were committed and driven to make public safety number one. That’s what the citizens of Pittsfield Township got, and I’m truly thankful for those that sat in those chairs and were the representatives of the people in Pittsfield Township to say, it’s going to be a public safety priority.
So that’s kind of a gradual review from 1978, through the first four police officers of Pittsfield Township, from Chief Hollifield, who I have already talked about, to Jim Harless, to Tom Enos, and Ernie Smith. Those were the original four. In the late ‘70s, the township entered into some federal grant funding for traffic enforcement, and they were hiring full-time traffic safety officers to augment the four police officers as well as respond to calls for service. There was a requirement that you aggressively enforced the traffic laws in the Township. One of those had left and I took his place, so I actually started in July of 1978 as a part-time officer, which was two months of the Department forming.
The only other comment that I wanted to make, before we kind of change to another thought and some major activity along the way, from ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, and Lisa and I would be happy to talk about that. But Lisa and I belong to a very prestigious group as well, and Ray LeCornu is the one that kind of started this. We are proud members of the FBI National Academy Associates, and both of us have served in the role of presidents of the Michigan Chapter as well. This is about 320 law enforcement officers across the state that have been to Quantico and back. Ray LeCornu approached the township board, and they had authorized a number of Pittsfield Township Police Officers to go. I went, Lisa went, and today the Department has four graduates from that academy as well. There’s not another police department in the State of Michigan that have put in or invested more in their police officers than Pittsfield Township body. And, again, that just speaks volumes as to the professionalism and to the direction that Pittsfield Township is going in regards to maintaining an organization that’s in business for one reason, and that’s to serve the public.
I had made a notation as I was going through some of my information, that we had five fatals on Michigan Avenue alone between Campbell Road and US23 from the late ’79 to early ’80 – five fatalities. And some of those fatalities and most of them that were policed involved speed. There were a couple of pin-ins down there, and some of them that continue to stick in your mind. I look at a fatal accident where a 54-year-old Manitou Beach man was pinned in ’79, and that was followed closely by a 90-year-old Blissfield man who died at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Platt. And then we had two 19-year-old Saline High School students that were driving a ’64 Corvette, and this one I remember because it happened in ’79 that they were heading southbound on State in a ’64 Corvette in excess of hundred miles an hour before the curves were changed, and they hit the wall at the Ford Plant at hundred miles an hour and the car disintegrated. The driver of that was dead on the scene. The passenger lived, and I’ve seen him three or four years later at the Saline High School. I remember a fatal at Michigan and State in which an elderly man from Toledo had passed away, and another head-on at Michigan and Campbell. So the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s, what I remember are some...some traffic collisions and traffic accidents, basically on the Michigan Avenue east-west corridor, that took...that took place. That was my most significant memories of the late ‘70s.
I remember...I remember that the Fourth of July fireworks were being sponsored by the JCs during the late ‘70s and early ’80s as well. And in the Ann Arbor Airport lot over here where we were brining in 90 to 100,000 people for the Fourth of July event. That was big for us, because we had, again, six, seven, eight, nine police officers then and trying to control a crowd of 100,000, you really rely on others to help you for those types of things. Lisa was showing me an article earlier where we sworn in 14 people in in ’85, but part of that we relied heavily on an auxiliary staff. And we still have an auxiliary staff that’s connected to the Department. These aren’t sworn police officers, these are volunteers in our community. These are people who are wanting to just dedicate eight hours a month with us, and we send them to reserve police academy, and in the early ’80s, we had 15 sworn into that unit. We have ten active positions today. That has never gone away. But we relied heavily on some of our auxiliary staff and part-time police officers as well.
So ‘70s was traffic, fatals. The ‘80s, Lisa joined us in 1985, and we started focusing on some other issues. And there were some major crime issues that were...were...I don’t want to say plaguing us, but we did have our share of major crimes in the...in the late ‘80s and more specifically in some of the major homicide investigations. I’d be happy to go through them with you, if you wanted me to.
And I don’t know why that all occurred, but I do know that it had an effect on the law enforcement community, because in the late ‘80s, you can see certain things that were happening in regards to trust issues that involved police departments. The most significant one was the Rodney King beating out in LA. You could see that there were things that were occurring in American law enforcement that should never be occurring. That was just the start of it. But we...we battle this issue today, as far as trust issues go. And somebody can sit in front of – we used to talk about this – when people sit in front of us and say, “I don’t trust you anymore,” we got a problem. And that’s today’s cop. It’s not uncommon for somebody to sit in front of police office today and say “I don’t trust you.” That’s wrong, and we have to everything that we can do to change it. So the late ‘80s were...we’re making some changes in regards to the...to the trust issues and to profiling issues that we were dealing with. At the same time we’re trying to hire minority applicants. Lisa said we have six female officers, we’ve got a Black police officer. We’re getting ready to hire another Black police officer. We brought Richie Coleman in the early ‘90s to do some things from a community perspective for us. So things are moving forward, not as quick as some of us had hoped for, but they are moving forward and I think we’re making some progress.