St. Peters Police Chief Tom Bishop was hoping he could step away quietly.
Bishop, 67, had decided months ago to step down and retire as the chief of police, but hadn't made a big deal of the decision. Not a fan of attention, Bishop said his plan was to ease out of the position.
His plan was going smoothly until the Board of Aldermen spilled the beans.
During Thursday's work session, the board was discussing a potential code change with Bishop when it was remarked that the normally quiet chief was being a bit more talkative.
City Administrator Bill Charnisky then joked that Bishop's impending retirement must be the reason for the change and the cat was out of the bag.
"I was hoping I'd never have to talk to anybody it," Bishop said.
After 44 years in law enforcement, 23 in St. Peters and 13 as the chief of police, Bishop will retire on Sept. 1. His replacement will be his current second-in-command, Major Jeff Finkelstein.
"I've never worked in a better place and I've never worked with better people," Bishop said.
Bishop said he decided to call it a career a few months back. After what he called a minor health issue, he said he had moment of reflection.
"I missed some work and I'm 67-years-old and I've been in law enforcement for 44 years, He said. "I woke up one morning and just thought, 'I think it's time to go.' I always told them I would give them six months notice so they could fill the spot as they see fit."
Bishop said he felt his legacy as chief, if he has one, is simply making sure the department is staffed with good people.
"It's the quality of young men and women we hire here," he said. "I take great pride in that. They're some of the best people you'd ever want to meet."
Building a department meant finding the right person for the job. Bishop said he employed a simple plan that worked well for St. Peters: Hire good people.
"It takes something special to be a police officer out here," he said. "We look for a certain type of individual. One of the first things I always tell them is, if you can't say, 'Good morning,' or, 'Hi, how are you?' when they pass anybody on the street, we don't need you. We need real polite, courteous officers, and over the years, I think that's what we've built."
With the department well-staffed, the crime rate low and the state-of-art Justice Center recently opened, Bishop is leaving the department in good shape—a fact that made his decision to retire just a bit easier.
Also making his decision easier is the choice of his replacement. Bishop said he reccommend Finkelstein take over and Mayor Len Pagano and Charnisky agreeed.
Bishop said he's worked with Finkelstein for years and the duo have always gotten along and see eye-to-eye on how to run things.
"It's going into great hands," Bishop said. "... I'm proud of Jeff. He'll do a great job."
Bishop plans to end his tenure by easing out of the job helping Finkelstein ease into the position. Starting next month Finkelstein will take a more hands-on role and be the de-facto chief with Bishop still around to offer guidance and help.
"I wish somebody would've done that with me," Bishop said with a laugh.
Bishop will end his career in a place he never imagined being—chief. He said he never had visions of running a department.
"I knew I wanted to do more than just be a patrol cop my entire life, but I never envisioned being a police chief," he said. "Never once did that even cross my mind. In fact, when they first offered me the job I said 'I don't think I really want it.'"
When he got the initial job offer, Bishop said he tired to work out a deal with Charnisky and then-mayor Tom Brown. He said he asked for a six-month trial. If he liked the job after six months, and they like the job he was doing, he'd stay on board. If not, he'd stop being the chief.
Brown and Charnisky said no deal and told him to take it or leave it. He took it.
"I'm glad they pushed me," he said. "It's been a pleasure."
Right now his plans for retirement involve spending time with his horses and maybe trying to improve his "terrible" golf game.
"Everybody says, 'Well what are you going to do?'" Bishop said. "Enjoy it. Enjoy what? I don't what it is, but I'm going to enjoy it."