Retiring Salem officer served with good will
John Scheets trained to become a welder after high school, but when he was a kid, he wanted to be just like “Gibby” the cop.
“I was just amazed. He always took time to stop and talk. He was just neat as a pin. His persona, the way he carried himself. I just thought that was awesome,” Scheets said.
Older folks in Salem will remember Gilbert “Gibby” Bartha Sr..
He was a well-known Salem city police officer who during his off-hours, still in uniform, worked the door at the grocery/department store Persky’s, where Giant Eagle stands now and where Scheets used to see him.
He made quite the impression on young Scheets, who grew up to indeed be like “Gibby,” as a Salem city police officer who treated both citizens and arrestees with the same respect and kindness he wanted to receive. Scheets recently reflected on his career after retiring Jan. 8 as a sergeant.
“Thank you to all the officers that I have worked with throughout the years who taught me how to be a good officer. It takes teamwork to get the job done. As for advice for new officers, I would add that I have always taken something I liked from every officer that I have worked with and used that in doing my job to be well-rounded,” he said.
Scheets joined the department full-time on Sept. 16, 1989, but had been a Salem auxiliary officer since Oct. 2, 1984. A 1981 graduate of Salem High School, he started out welding but the work wasn’t steady.
“I think I just kind of found my calling accidentally,” he said.
He had joined the Leetonia police auxiliary in 1982 and went through the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office police school in 1983 when the late Jim Traficant was sheriff. He worked security at Salem hospital a few years and secured his first full-time job as a police officer with Knox Township in February 1987, then his career with Salem began two years later.
“I enjoyed working here. This was the best job ever. I will miss everybody I worked with, the cooperation we had together, all the citizens,” he said.
Scheets said growing up here and helping people with their problems or seeing everybody, dealing with people in their everyday lives, that’s what he’ll miss.
Starting his 32nd year this month, he recalled starting on midnights then moving to the cover shift from 7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., which was a busy shift with all the bars. He also worked afternoons and then moved to day shift. In 2002, he became a detective, then joined the Columbiana County Drug Task Force as Salem’s full-time representative in 2004. In 2009, he became a road supervisor after his promotion to sergeant, then went back to the DTF part-time in 2011 and then full-time in 2013. He was already in the pension drop program, so his time was almost up when he decided to retire.
“Another opportunity arose that I couldn’t pass up,” he said.
Scheets is now a member of the Columbiana County Sheriff’s Office under new Sheriff Brian McLaughlin, who he worked with for many years on the DTF. He said he couldn’t just walk away from law enforcement. He likes to keep active, better busy than idle. He’s been working since age 13 when he had a paper route and cut grass, enabling him to buy his first car.
Scheets even rode the streets of Salem as part of the police department’s bike patrol. He said he’s got lots of stories, from funny to not-so-funny and some downright scary. He was shot at once by a man who was barricaded in a house and that wasn’t even a drug case. In the funny category, he recalled sitting on patrol on the west end of town when humane officer Sue Davidson pulled up with her daughter, Joan, who was holding a cute baby pig. She handed it to Scheets and it peed all over him.
The most disturbing cases were the ones involving child deaths — you never forget those, he said.
With the DTF, Scheets was involved in the big drug case known as Big Oak and worked with the Drug Enforcement Administration with wire taps and helped the guys on the bigger cases. He said that was the challenge of the job. He said his biggest accomplishments came with the DTF.
But he also liked his interactions with the citizens, saying it means a lot to kids when a police officer takes the time to talk with them. His advice for rookie officers is to just be nice and be calm. When people call, their problem might seem minor, but to them it’s a big deal.
“The more problems you solve for people and they trust you, you’ll definitely be paid back,” Scheets said.
People have come up to him who overdosed or were hooked on drugs who thanked him for saving their life. He also thanked the citizens who have assisted police over the years and watched their backs, saying it makes the job a lot easier “when you have the citizens on your side.”
Scheets still does some welding and likes woodworking and fishing. He also enjoys metal detecting. He and his wife Melissa have two boys, Jack, who graduated from Baldwin Wallace and is a photographer and Ben, who’s a student at Salem High School. He said he has a great family.
“I’m very blessed with life in that regard,” he said.
“They don’t come any better than John,” Salem Police Chief J.T. Panezott said.
They came into the department the same year and have been friends for 32 years. He’s happy for him.
“He knew what community policing was before it was ever a term,” Panezott said.
Patrolman David Beeson will be assigned to the DTF full-time to take the spot vacated by Scheets. A part-time officer will be hired for the full-time spot on the road to replace Beeson. The special sergeant’s position will not be filled.