Chief to retire after 54 years on the job

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Nov 26, 2004
Police chief to retire
'Icon' plans for June 1 departure

After 54 years in uniform, including nearly 18 years as Port Huron's police chief, William J. Corbett plans to retire this spring.

"The time in my life has occurred, after a most rewarding career, for me to put aside my badge and gun and to pursue other endeavors," he wrote in a resignation letter to City Manager Karl Tomion.

The letter was dated Friday, but Corbett's decision was not made public until Monday when the chief shared the news with members of the department. He plans to step down by June 1.

Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, said the state will be losing one of its most-respected law officers.

"He's an icon in this state," Hendrickson said. "Fifty-four years is hard to imagine. That is two careers."

Tomion will oversee the search for Corbett's successor. Under Port Huron's charter, the city manager has sole authority for hiring a police chief.

"While I have not developed a specific recruitment plan with our personnel department, we will be recruiting for this position on a statewide basis," Tomion said. "We have at least one excellent internal candidate in police Capt. Donald Porrett, who has expressed an interest in the position."

Corbett echoed Tomion's praise for Porrett, which suggests the captain is a clear frontrunner.

'Lots of projects'
Mayor Brian Moeller, a former police captain, praised Corbett, the man who fired him eight years ago during a turbulent period in city politics.

"The chief has served the city for 18 years, and he has served it well," the mayor said. "I know this last year has been rough on him with the loss of his wife. I know he loved her, and the loss has been very hard on him. I wish him well in retirement."

Corbett's wife, Katherine, died in October. The chief described her as "a 51-year integral part of my career" and acknowledged her death played a role in his decision to step down at age 75.

He said he hopes "to travel a little bit" and to investigate his family's roots in Belle River, a community on the southern shore of Lake St. Clair.

"I have lots of projects planned," he added, joking that his son and daughter plan to put him to work.

Collecting 3 pensions
Corbett said this retirement is "for good," unlike two earlier ones. He's already drawing pensions from Detroit, where he wore a badge for 26 years, and Ann Arbor, where he served as chief for a decade.

From 1954 to 1980, he served with the Detroit Police Department, including six years as commander of the 14th Precinct in the northwest part of the city. He supervised 212 officers in that post.

He then moved to Ann Arbor, where he served as police chief from 1980 to 1990. He supervised about 180 officers at a time when the city also provided uniformed officers for the University of Michigan's campus and sporting venues.

Corbett was 57 on July 2, 1990, when he was sworn in as Port Huron's 26th police chief. His starting salary was $55,000. He now earns $97,000 a year to lead the department, which has 51 sworn officers.

"Gerry Bouchard made me an offer I couldn't refuse," the chief said, recalling his recruitment by the former city manager. "He and John Berry (the city's personnel director) told me there would be time for fishing, there would be time for golf. I'm still looking for that time."

Grooming successors
Corbett succeeded Philip Arreola, who left Port Huron in 1990 to become the police chief of Milwaukee. Arreola would become well known for overseeing the investigation of the Jeffrey Dahmer cannibalism case.

Arreola also had been a precinct commander in Detroit, and Corbett pledged to train a successor.

"I hope the next chief in Port Huron will be from the ranks," he said in a 1990 interview. "I intend to prepare and groom my successor."

Moeller was on track to possibly be that successor before he lost his job during the turmoil of 2000, when four council members fired City Manager Larry Osborn and then survived a bitterly fought recall effort. Moeller sued the city for wrongful termination under the whistleblower's act. The case eventually was settled out of court with the terms kept confidential.

Another potential successor, Maj. James Carmody, now is the police chief of Wyoming, a city of about 70,000 people in suburban Grand Rapids, while former Capt. Neil Rossow took a job last month as chief of Flat Rock, a Wayne County community of 8,500 people.

A man of ethics
Corbett was president of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police in 1988-89 and received the group's Presidential Citation for outstanding service in 1993.

Hendrickson said the association has agreed to help Tomion conduct a statewide search. There are about 400 police departments in Michigan, and only a handful have chiefs who have served as long as Corbett.

"The average tenure for a police chief is three or four years at most," Hendrickson said. "Typically, they reach a pinnacle and become the chief toward the end of their career."

He also said Corbett will be missed.

"Bill mentored a lot of people in this state," Hendrickson said. "When they had real ethical questions, they turned to Bill Corbett for advice. Even prominent chiefs in this state, when there was a difficult issue, they turned to Bill privately for advice. I know that for a fact."

I wish Bill well. He was good to me during my time as an Explorer at the Department from 1995-1999. I think it was about time he stepped aside to have time to himself.
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