In ancient Roman times, they were called Vigiles Urbani, or Watchmen of the City, and were outfitted with batons and short swords. They were responsible for keeping order as well as fighting fires.
A couple thousand years later, Glen Evans walks the same beat in Oakwood, where the city in 1927 became the second in the country to combine police, fire and EMS work under one public safety umbrella.
It was the same year Charles Lindbergh visited Oakwood resident Orville Wright. They might have discussed airplanes, not part of the Vigiles’ repertoire, nor Evans’, for that matter.
On a recent ride-a-long, Evans wore his dark blue police uniform as he patrolled the city’s 2.19 square miles looking for traffic violations, possible criminal activity and answering calls from citizens concerned about suspicious people or vehicles.
But just before dark, an alarm at a senior citizen’s facility on Far Hills went off, and Evans was there in seconds. Another cruiser was right behind, and a fire truck.
Had it not been a false alarm, Evans had his firefighting clothes and gear in the trunk of his car for a middle-of-the-street change.
“Eighty percent of the time, we’re doing police work,” Evans said. “But we have a consolidated force here – police, fire and EMS. If this had been a real alarm, it could have been bad.”
Instead, some dust from workmen on the third floor of the building set off the alarm. Almost from the moment Evans arrived, he knew there would be no major problems. There was no outside smoke, so he hurried inside to check the alarm box by the front door.
Resetting it, he took a thorough tour of the building while residents sat in a community area being entertained by live music.
Evans visited each floor and the basement, talked to the painters on three to find out what happened. He left knowing there was no danger. He had worried getting elderly persons out of the building would have been difficult had there been a fire.
“A fire doubles in size every minute,” he said.
By the time he left the building, the fire truck had already gone back to its garage, just a couple blocks away.
It gave Evans a chance to reflect on perceptions.
“People drop off baked goods to the fire department,” he said, noting that usually doesn’t happen with the police department even though they share the same building on Park Avenue.
However, during one radar check stop during the ride-a-long, a resident waved him down, offering an extra case of bottled water Evans said he would drop off at the department for everyone’s use.
On the rest of his tour of the city from about 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Evans stopped a motorist to give a warning for a loud muffler, ticketed a driver for doing 36 in a 25-mph zone near a playground, and finished the night with an OVI stop of a speeder, who appeared to be ready to accelerate for a chase before pulling into a parking lot space off Shroyer Road.
The 21-year-old gave a breath test that returned a .188 reading, more than double the legal limit of .08. She was arrested, but released to a sober friend prior to a court appointment.
He also checked on a vehicle a caller said might have a fake parking pass from UD and perused a neighborhood were a woman with a backpack was said to be knocking on doors.
As the sun went down, Evans looked for people he usually didn’t see.
“Bad guys come out at night,” he said. “People (criminals) like coming here because there’s money here. People come at midnight just checking (car) door handles.
“Sometimes, if a person loses some change from a car, they won’t even report it.”
Of help is the fact there are only a few establishments that serve alcohol — most restaurant/bars rather than bar/restaurants — and few businesses other than the main, well-lit strip of Far Hills Avenue, the gateway to the city.
Evans has been a policeman in Xenia and Kettering for more than 20 years, nearly eight of those in Oakwood, where his triple duty includes fire and EMS work.
First, before his next assignment, he had to do a short mound of paper work on the OVI stop. He wasn’t finished until after 11 p.m., but still had eight hours on his 24-hour shift (one day on, two days off).
“This isn’t all police work,” Evans said, noting his work in fire and EMS as well. “We get calls for assistance and service. We do vacation home checks. I’ve had calls where I’ve had to take down a burglar. People have a high expectation of service here, and that’s what we try to do.”