The modern day Mentor Police Department was established on December 18, 1963, when Mentor Village and Mentor Township incorporated as the City of Mentor. However, the roots of the department can be traced much further back. Much of the following information is taken from the book “Mentor: The First 200 Years” published by the Mentor Bicentennial Commission / Old Mentor Foundation, 1997, and from numerous newspaper clippings.
Formal law enforcement in the Village of Mentor started with the hiring of Lawrence R. Yaxley in July of 1926. Yaxley was 21 years old when he was hired, and he was issued a blue uniform and Badge Number 1. Tragically, Yaxley became the first and only Mentor Police Officer to die in the line of duty, when, on January 30, 1927, he was accidentally shot with his own service revolver. While trying to cover an open manhole on Mentor Avenue at Garfield Road, Yaxley’s gun fell out of its holster. It fell into the sewer, discharged when it hit the bottom and the bullet struck him in the head.
Early records show that three men served as Police Chief of the Mentor Village Police Department; Fred James, Wayne S. Lingafelter, and Frank Hathy. The retirement plaque at the Mentor Police Department lists Lingafelter as having died while employed, on February 14, 1953. During Lingafelter’s tenure, two of his patrolmen would later serve as Chief of Police for the Mentor Police Department; Thomas C. Fracci was hired in 1948 as one of five full-time patrolmen. He was paid 50 cents an hour and worked 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. James W. Agard joined the department in 1951.
Meanwhile, a large portion of the Mentor area was the unincorporated Mentor Township. Law enforcement in this large area was conducted by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. In 1954, the citizens of the Mentor Headlands area felt that they should have their own police protection. With the cooperation of Lake County Sheriff Paul Cage, six special deputies, all volunteers, were sworn in and established the Headlands’ Sheriff’s Patrol. Sheriff Cage trained these volunteers and provided a four year old station wagon as a patrol vehicle. Walter Boles was named chief. The volunteers provided police protection, first aid, and emergency ambulance service to the Headlands’ residents. Equipment and subsequent vehicles were purchased through fundraising activities.
The Headlands’ Sheriff’s Patrol was an innovative concept and may have been the only patrol of its type in the United States. The volunteers all worked other jobs and scheduled patrols around their work schedules. Uniforms, equipment, insurance, and gasoline were all paid out of their own pocket. In 1961, the patrol consisted of 12 men including Chief Howard E. Schultz.
In 1963, Mentor Township and Village incorporated as the City of Mentor and the Headlands’ patrol was disbanded. The new City of Mentor Police Department consisted of 12 full-time officers under Chief Frank D. Hathy. Initially these officers worked out of offices in Mentor City Hall located at Mentor Avenue and Center Street. Officers on patrol communicated with taxi-cab radios. They patrolled the city and were required to check every business every night to make certain that all doors were locked. The city had nine traffic signals at that time. Chief Hathy retired on May 17, 1966.
James W. Agard served as Police Chief from September 1, 1966, until July 2, 1976. Chief Agard was known as a strict disciplinarian, and during his tenure, the department experienced a period of rapid growth. In 1966, the police station moved from City Hall to a brick structure on Hopkins Road. The building was built as a schoolhouse, and was later purchased by the American Legion. It consisted of three floors and had two jail cells in the basement. The officers themselves painted their new headquarters, and took up a collection among themselves to buy a new base radio. Although quickly outgrown, it was an improvement over the city hall location.
Thomas C. Fracci succeeded Chief Agard as Police Chief and served from July 5, 1976 to July 30, 1981. Chief Fracci continued the period of rapid growth and was instrumental in the planning, design, and building of the current Mentor Police Headquarters. In order to accomplish this, City Council had to convince voters to increase the city income tax from 1% to 1.5%. Chief Fracci supported this issue, waging a media campaign, and giving public tours of the now woefully inadequate Hopkins Road police station. In 1980, Mentor’s Crime Prevention Unit was founded under Chief Fracci.
Joseph Koziol was appointed Chief on August 3, 1981. Chief Koziol was the first chief brought in from outside the immediate area to head the department. Chief Koziol had previously headed the Carol Stream, Illinois Police Department. The construction of the police department was completed while he was chief and required many changes in the policies and procedures governing the daily activities of the department. The department’s K-9 unit was formed in October, 1981. Chief Koziol resigned his position on October 31, 1984, and accepted another chief’s position in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Richard A. Amiott took over as Chief of the department on October 29, 1984. He had a 19 year career with the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, where he served as Chief Deputy. Chief Amiott was a highly respected and decorated officer in Lake County. He also became known nationally through his work with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the FBI National Academy Alumni Association. Chief Amiott worked at modernizing the Mentor Police Department. Most visible to the public were changes in the car design, badges, and police patch worn by the officers. A department mission statement was also adopted. Chief Amiott started the department’s Victim Assistance Program which currently has one full time and one part time employee, and the Community Response Unit. He retired on December 31, 2002.
Chief Llewellyn came up through the ranks of the Mentor Police Department, starting in 1979. He was sworn in as Chief on January 27, 2003. Chief Llewellyn instituted several programs in an effort to enhance our response to the community and provide more effective law enforcement services. Among these are the Bicycle Patrol Unit and two officers assigned to specialize in the enforcement of narcotic laws. An all-terrain vehicle was added to the motorized fleet to provide enhanced patrol services in the Mentor Lagoons and Nature Preserve, along with other city parks. During his tenure, and to ensure officer safety and minimize injuries to officers as well as civilians, all police officers have been issued tasers, and the desired effect is already evident.
On January 4, 2013 Captain Kevin Knight was sworn in as the City of Mentor’s seventh Chief of Police. Chief Knight came up through the ranks of the department, starting in September, 1981 and has served as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain in charge of operations and administration. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Administration of Justice from Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri and is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Academy.
Today, the Mentor Police Department is the largest police agency in Lake County. It consists of 82 sworn officers, 34 civilians, and 20 part-time employees. Mentor’s Emergency Dispatch Center was relocated and modernized in 2004, and serves as a back-up to the Lake County Emergency Operations Center. In 2005, Mentor’s jail was changed from a 5-day to a 12-day holding facility. It has been rated at 100% compliance with state regulations for 17 consecutive years.
Within the operations division, under Captain Kenneth Gunsch, oversees the patrol division and the detective bureau. Mentor fields a SWAT team, hostage negotiators, accident investigation unit, evidence technicians, field training officers, K-9 teams, bicycle and atv unit, pursuit driving instructors, the Chaplain program, and other special operations.
The administrative division oversees the department budget, training, hiring, range and defensive tactics, crime prevention, court services, fleet maintenance, in-car video system, grants, computer upgrade, and the Bomb Squad. The administrative division is commanded by Captain Andrew Lehner.
Captain Kenneth Zbiegien is the Support Services Commander in charge of the Communications, Corrections, Records, and Property and Evidence divisions, building conditions, and the radio equipment.
We look forward to continuing to provide progressive and innovative police services to the citizens of Mentor and Lake County, and to maintain our position as one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the State of Ohio.
It is with a great deal of pride that we serve the City of Mentor and its citizens. We could not have come this far without the contributions of the officers and civilian employees who came before us. We salute the 60 officers of the Mentor Police Department and the 22 civilians who have retired, and whose names are etched on plaques in the lobby of the Mentor Police Department.