Delmar chief prepares to close out storied career
Delmar Police Chief Harold Saylor rose quickly to the
top of the force, and spent his career in service to the
town. Photo by Tony Russo
Delmar Police Chief Harold Saylor’s office is barely used. After spending the better part of three decades in the ramshackle building that served as the Delmar Police Station, his new digs aren’t just nicer, they are incomparable. As are the methods from building to building and, in some ways the people. Saylor said he feels as if he has another decade of chiefing left in him, but that, once a suitable replacement is found, he will step aside and make way for the next several decades worth of changes.
After coming on board as a patrolman in 1981, he had risen quickly in the Delmar Police Department not long after moving to the area to finish his liberal arts degree at Salisbury State University.
The Rockville, Md. native had been recruited by both big Iowa schools. He still has a letter from then-assistant coach Dan Gable, the storied Olympian who went on to coach the hawkeyes to 15 national championships. Saylor selected Iowa State, though, and once his wrestling career ended there, he headed back east, married a local girl and settled in Mardela. Ronald Reagan still was president when Saylor took the helm of the Delmar Police Department upon the resignation of Hunter Nelms. He was 27 years old.
“It is an honorable profession and its the one I’ve chosen,” he said. “And I hope I’ve done it well.”
Carving out a safe Delmar in the late 1980s and early 1990s required tact and commitment and while he has a lot of stories to tell, his and the rest of the department’s efforts in salvaging the East East Street section of town is the theme to which he returns.
The term “open air drug market” is evocative of violence and lawlessness. Dealing on the streets that leads to violence as this kind of illicit activity tends to. In other towns the drug trafficking was (and in some remains), combated by regular raids and chases, scattering the problems to other sections of town and widening, rather than narrowing the opportunities for street corner dealers. Often, innocent residents get caught up in the raids and the police are put in combative opposition to the community.
Saylor didn’t feel as if this approach was appropriate for Delmar. First of all, the town was small enough that scattering the dealers was the same as doing nothing at all. He elected instead to just station a patrolman on East East Street. In a small town where sometimes there only were three (or even one) officer on duty, it was chancey but, Saylor thought, worth it.
The other cars would patrol regularly and, rather than set up shop elsewhere in town, some of the dealers just left and others took their business indoors. Today, East East Street is not the “bad” section of Delmar, it’s just another street.
Saylor said his policing philosophy is:
“Take care of the small stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself.”
Saylor doesn’t have any illusions about whether Delmar has drug dealing going on, but he knows for a fact the drive-by shootings and other drug violence is practically unheard of and certainly not localized.
On the heels of this success, the Delmar Police Department embraced the kind of community policing that was less about shows of force than about presence. The police are around, they talk to people on the street as much to make sure that people know that they are as likely to stop and ask after a person’s intentions as not. The impression is not that they hassle but rather make it less worth the trouble to do too much hanging around Delmar streets.
“I almost feel like I’m a sheriff with 5,000 deputies,” he said. The people of Delmar care a lot about their town and support the police force. Over the last 20-or-so years, Saylor has helped to cultivate a culture whereby people are comfortable involving the police in their lives and in aiding the police in keeping the town, if not crime free at least crime tolerant.
“Sometimes we can go an entire month without a theft,” Saylor said.
The 90s also were when technology came to Delmar in a big way and never stopped coming. Saylor talks about the first fax machine and the issuance of his first pager (neither of which happened too long ago) as if talking about the first motion pictures or horseless carriages, so much have the department’s tools and procedures changed. He is proud of his department and of the new station.
“The taxpayers always have been generous with us and we’ve respected that,” he said. The current police station, or, rather, “Public Safety Building” is state of the art and furnished mostly by donations and grants. Visiting officers have supposed the facility cost between $3-$5 million to build. It cost the town just over $900,000.
Once a new chief is selected, the application deadline passed on March 31, Saylor will make his way back to civilian life, but for now remains engaged and proud of the job he has done and the community he has been a part of.
“I still patrol the streets every day and talk to people,” he said. “I do have my whole adult life invested in this town.”