Today marks the closing of a chapter. May 31 is the last day Robert Toth of Carmichaels will be chief of the Waynesburg Borough Police Department. He retires today, after 24 years as a police officer, with 22 of those at the borough’s department.
Mike Simms, borough manager, said Waynesburg is in the process of hiring Toth’s replacement, reviewing applications. Simms said he will assist the police secretary with shift scheduling and Mayor Brian Tanner will take over most of Toth’s duties until a new chief is hired.
“Yesterday they gave me my retirement badge. They didn’t give (my wife) a flag for a dead officer,” Toth said on May 24. “You get into police work for the betterment of the town. It’s been an honor working here for 22 years.”
In 1994, Toth graduated from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Justice Training Center at age 30. His police career started that same year in Hanover Township. He was assigned to the Star Lake Amphitheater, now KeyBank Pavilion, which he patrolled until 1998.
While with Hanover’s police department, Toth also worked as a part-time officer and drug taskforce member for Waynesburg Borough Police, a role he began in 1996, and as courthouse security for the Greene County Sherriff’s office from 1997-98.
“Not every burglary is the same, nothing is the same,” Toth said. “With police work, every day is different and I like that.”
He recalls his first felony arrest in Waynesburg, on Sept. 12, 1996, for an attempted car robbery. He said the suspect confessed as Toth was making a typewriter stencil for the criminal complaint.
“He was the first felon I ever arrested,” he said.
Toth left Hanover police for a full-time position with Waynesburg in 1998. In 2012, he became the borough’s first patrolman promoted to criminal investigator, he said, a title usually earned by lieutenants.
“I was pretty proud of that,” Toth said.
In 2013, he was promoted to chief and has been behind many positive changes to the department, he said. He was the first police chief to shut down High Street for Waynesburg’s annual Holiday Open House. Under his lead, the department gained a K-9 narcotics unit, a crime scene investigator (able to collect evidence) and two Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program officers (to inspect CDL trucks for infractions). Toth said he also spearheaded ideas like implementing a full-time staff of nine officers and assigning tasers, patrol rifles and radios to individual officers, which he said has proven to make the equipment last longer. He also requested his officers be trained in emergency response tactics for schools.
“I try to be proactive,” he said.
In 1993, Toth worked as a jail guard while studying corrections administration at the Community College of Allegheny County. He said hearing the inmates’ stories is what piqued his interest in criminal justice. Also, his grandfather, whom he looked up to, was a police sergeant and Toth recalls hearing his stories while growing up.
“(I had) the drive to do the right thing,” he said. “To help people.”
And help others he did, as documented in a binder his wife made, which details the success stories of Toth’s career. From the residents he rescued in the 2010 Avalon Court Apartment fire to a little white dog in a flea-infested home, Toth keeps reminders of the lives he’s helped.
“It’s good to know all the work you did made a difference, that you had a positive impact,” he said. “You’re here to serve the people and to protect them. Sometimes listening (to their troubles) is all you need to do.”
Toth’s list of awards includes recognition from the Greene County District Attorney’s Office for help in the arrest of 13 people involved in a heroin distribution ring in 1998; an award from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for arresting an undocumented Australian in possession of a firearm in Waynesburg in 2004; and certificates from Western PA Firemen’s Association, Waynesburg Borough and PA State Firemen’s Association for rescue efforts in the 2010 Avalon fire.
“You have to have a strong faith to survive in this career,” Toth said. “Because you see and hear things that would make people shudder, some things someone should never see.”
Every day, as he donned his uniform, badges and gun, Toth, a devout Catholic, also put on his St. Michael necklace. St. Michael is the patron saint of chivalry, the sick and suffering, police officers and other service members.
“You gotta fall back on something,” he said of his faith. “I pray for my guys every day and I worry about them every day and I do rely on my faith to get me through a lot.”
Toth said his plans for the future include “trying to wind down stress-wise, get a lot of yard work done and travel a bit.”
“Driving in on your last day, you notice things you didn’t notice before,” Toth said of the borough he helped protect for the past two decades. “On (Route) 21, at the top of the hill, I saw the whole town and just thought how much I’ll miss it.”