A career of service: Seymour police chief retires after 29 years


Bill Abbott doesn’t remember much about his first shift as a police officer with the Seymour Police Department.

The 55-year-old police chief said he remembers enjoying working traffic on the west end of the city, but other than that, not much else sticks out.

Abbott anticipates remembering Friday afternoon much better. Surrounded by family, friends, fellow officers and city officials, he signaled 10-42 for the final time as chief of the only department he has ever served.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

It was an emotional moment and one that ended a tenure of more than 11 years as the city’s top law enforcement official.

After signing off, his wife, daughter and grandchildren read a message and thanked him for his service, officially marking the end of his time as chief.

Assistant Chief Craig Hayes, who served as chief from 2004 to 2008, will take over as interim chief until January when a newly elected mayor takes office.

Abbott was appointed chief by Mayor Craig Luedeman and assumed duty Jan. 1, 2008. He was hired as a patrolman Aug. 25, 1989, and with the exception of a few months between 1999 and 2000, he has served in a variety of roles for the department during 29 years of service.

The service won’t stop, either. Abbott plans to join the department as a reserve and work hospital security beginning in March when his time-off pay ends.

Looking back on his years leading the force Abbott said he wanted to be become chief to influence the department in his own way and that he always wanted to strive to be more throughout his career.

“I had been a patrolman, a corporal, a sergeant, a detective and felt I had more to offer the community,” he said. “I thought I could take the department in my own direction and felt I knew we needed to be modernized.”

Abbott said he was proud to have helped that cause by adding more officers and investing in technology and training throughout his tenure. That included adding the department’s crime scene technicians and drug training.

“Seeing all the capabilities we have now is great,” he said.

When he became chief, Abbott said he learned quickly the job was not at all what he thought it would be.

“You see what’s going on and are familiar with some of the workings, but you have no idea about it until you are in the position,” he said.

Abbott routinely takes phone calls during all hours of the day from detectives, officers, officials, other agencies and media. He also learned the community ultimately would hold him accountable for every action for the department.

“There’s a lot of responsibility with that,” he said, adding he will not miss that part of the job.

Becoming chief was a long time in the making for Abbott, who was not hired on his first or second time applying with the department. He had worked as a local pharmaceutical plant and as a security officer for Cummins Engine Co. when he applied.

He also had applied with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department but wasn’t called.

“I thought I would give a third try and be done with it,” he said.

That third try was a good idea, as he was hired at the age of 25 a year to the date he started at Cummins.

From there, he went through a field training program and attended the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy from January to March 1990.

Woody DeZarn, Jack Hauer, Roy Howard and Jim Lawson were his field training officers, Abbott said.

Those early days took Abbott to a time when his career changed. He remembers being called into the chief’s office and told he needed to set goals and improve his work.

Self-admittedly, he was not doing well at completing his obligations as a police officer.

“They wanted me to be more active, enforce the laws, create solutions and more while I was just driving a police car around,” he said. “They weren’t seeing me progress like I should have, and they knew I had a lot more potential.”

Abbott took the message to heart and started taking his career much more serious.

He patrolled the city’s streets until 1994 when he was promoted to the department’s first team of corporals along with Carl Lamb, Craig Bishop and Jack Swindell.

Abbott served as a corporal for a year before being promoted to sergeant. He served in that capacity until Dec. 31, 1998.

On Jan. 1, 1999, the department implemented permanent 12-hour shifts. He was the lowest-ranking sergeant, he had gone through personal issues and didn’t want to be on night shifts anymore.

So he quit in May 1999 to work for a local electric supply company. By February 2000, Abbott had returned to the department, being rehired back by Chief J.B. Hamblin and started back as a patrol officer.

Abbott patrolled until 2004 when newly appointed Chief Craig Hayes asked him to be a detective.

He served as detective, where he and Lamb became known for effectively working drug cases, until Abbott became chief Jan. 1, 2008.

Ask Abbott what has changed throughout his years of service, and the list goes on.

Departments were using typewriters and a pad of paper for case reports when he started his career.

The police department is not even in the same building as it was when he started and had its own holding cells for those who were arrested by city officers.

He remembers getting punched in the face for the first time by a man he was booking into the cell before taking him to the jail. The man had been previously convicted of attempting to kill a police officer when Abbott arrested him for public intoxication.

“It was the first time anyone had ever punched me in the face,” he said. “I wasn’t really expecting it.”

Abbott also wasn’t expecting to handle as many homicides as he has throughout his career. Those cases are hard to forget.

He can remember the exact dates, names and many of the circumstances around the cases still today. He always said he felt bad for the victim of the crime but even more so for the family.

“It’s the worst crime for the surviving family, and you’re the one who has to tell them, and those are never easy conversations,” he said. “Those stay with you.”

Abbott remembers June 2, 1990, when he had only been out of the academy for three months.

He was patrolling an area when he was waved down by a driver to come alongside a vehicle. Frances “Bo” Sweany II was in the car, and his estranged wife, Cecilia, was dead in the vehicle.

Abbott remembers escorting them to the hospital and Sweany being arrested. He was later convicted of her murder.

“That was so early in my career, but I will never forget it,” he said.

March 10, 2016, also sticks out to Abbott. That was the day of the Cummins shooting when Qing Chen killed Ward Edwards in a murder-suicide. The memory that sticks out the most in that incident is multiple police agencies coming together.

“Seeing police work happen and everyone coming together to help, that’s special,” he said.

It’s also the kind of work that forces officers to make sacrifices in their personal lives.

“There’s a lot of missed holidays, a lot of missed birthdays, marriages that fall apart,” he said. “You’re never at rest because your mind is always thinking about something at this job. It never leaves, and the stress on the body is difficult.”

It’s also difficult work because officers are often judged by decisions they are forced to make quickly.

“It’s difficult because you’re second-guessed by your fellow officers by the call you made, the administration, the prosecutor, the judges, the juries and the media on a decision you made in a quarter of a second,” he said. “For the most part, we do a great job of making the right decision. Sometimes, we could make a better one, but life isn’t perfect.”

Abbott said he will miss the people he has worked with, fellow police officers and the community, but it’s time to let others lead the department.

“It’s just like the weather where the seasons change,” he said. “We all grow older, and this is a young man’s game.”

No posts to display