North Belle Vernon police chief honored as he enters retirement
Residents and businesses in North Belle Vernon might notice something is different as they go about their business Monday.
The familiar man behind the wheel of the borough police cruiser, the cop who waves to passersby won't be there.
Monday will be the first day in 16 years that Jim Bedsworth will not serve the community as police chief.
Bedsworth retired effective Saturday.
“I've been here for 27 years, 16 as the chief,” an emotional Bedsworth said. “This is where I wanted to work. It's such a good community, and it always has been. The residents, the businesses, they're just wonderful people.
“I couldn't ask to serve a better community.”
On Friday, the police station was flooded with former officers, well-wishers and colleagues who came to wish Bedsworth the best as he moves to the next chapter of his life. The borough sponsored a luncheon to celebrate Bedsworth's career and service.
“I'm honored to have the opportunity to work with some of the best officers around,” Bedsworth said. “A great deal of officers have moved on to bigger and better jobs to better themselves and their careers.”
Bedsworth said former North Belle Vernon officers now have jobs with the Pennsylvania and Delaware state police and in such municipalities as Morgantown, W.Va., Monessen and Rostraver Township. He said the list goes on and on.
“My officers have always been my other children,” Bedsworth said. “Every officer needs a mentor, someone to look up to. I was no different.”
Just as Bedsworth said that, his mentor walked in the door.
Now a magisterial district judge, Charles Christner was Bedsworth's mentor, and he came to offer his former colleague some advice.
“Get drunk and go be someone. You're a good kid,” Christner said with a laugh as the pair embraced.
“Well, he's retiring before me. This community is different. It's the best little secret in the Mon Valley. Jim did it well.
“There's no flaws in his record, no bad headlines. ... I think he served this community well, and I'm sure the community feels the same.”
A teary-eyed Bedsworth was humbled by Christner's words.
“It means a lot to me, for him to say those things,” Bedsworth said. “I learned from him. When I was working at the Boron station, he brought me his vehicle and criminal code books, and I would sit there and read them.”
The former Boron is now the BP on Fayette Street.
“He got me into law enforcement,” Bedsworth said of Christner. “I owe him everything.”
Mayor Craig Ambrose said Bedsworth's retirement provided a bittersweet moment for him and the borough.
“I'm happy for him that he's able to retire, but I hate to see him go,” Ambrose said. “I don't think it's going to be starting all over again, but then again, it is.
“I was (on council) when he was a lieutenant, and I was friends with him when he worked at the gas station. He'll be around, though. I'm sure I'll call him for some advice at times, but ours is a friendship that goes beyond the police department.”
In addition to North Belle Vernon officers and borough officials, others came to pay homage to Bedsworth: Rostraver Township police Chief Greg Resetar and Lt. John Christner, West Newton police Chief Gary Indolf, and from the Monessen police department, Chief John Mandarino and former Bedsworth “children,” Dave Yuhasz and Aaron Thompson.
“We'll miss him in the ranks,” Mandarino said. “He's a great officer and a great person.”
North Belle Vernon Lt. Eugene Lipari will act as officer-in-charge until council hires or appoints a new chief.
“After working with someone for 19 years, it's hard to see them go,” Lipari said of Bedsworth. “But I'm really happy for him that he gets the opportunity to retire. On the other hand, I wish he'd stay.
“It's been an honor working with him.”
Bedsworth said the incident that sticks with him the most was the July 9, 1998, early morning arrest of Michael P. Drasher, a Stillwater, Okla., man wanted for the murder of an 8-year-old girl.
“That arrest made national news. And it was because our officer was out there patrolling and doing his job,” Bedsworth said.
“It brought recognition to small-town police departments and the roles they play protecting their communities.”
Bedsworth chuckled while remembering his pursuit of a pot belly pig.
Armed with all his memories, Bedsworth looks forward to spending time with his girlfriend and his daughters, Bethany Ann, 33, and Tess Ann, 12. He's also wrapped around the finger of his 6-month-old granddaughter, Gionna Josephine Owens.
“I'm really looking forward to that time with the girls,” Bedsworth said. “(Friday) was difficult to get through. Mentally, I'm ready to go out and do the job every day, but after having my stroke, my body said that it's time. I'm not a young guy anymore.
“The decal on our patrol vehicles says ‘An honor to serve, a duty to protect' but that's wrong. As far as I'm concerned, it should be flipped around because it's been a duty to serve and an honor to protect North Belle Vernon.”
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2667.