McCrabb: Middletown chief reflects on 30-year career as retirement approaches

Middletown Division of Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw talks to Brandy Slavens, left, with Access Counseling Services during a Heroin Summit Meeting Monday, March 20 at Atrium Medical Center in Middletown. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

This is the blueprint for a police officer’s retirement: Work for 30 years in the same city, never fire your gun, move up the ranks until you reach police chief, and retire when you’re 50.

Rodney Eugene Muterspaw understands he’s a lucky man.

He has dodged bullets literally and figuratively since joining the Middletown Division of Police after graduating from Middletown Christian High School and attending Cedarville University.

He never fired his service weapon because the suspects always dropped their gun or knife first. Split-second decisions changed lifetimes.

“It worked out in my favor,” Muterspaw said. “I’ve been blessed. Thank God.”

But now it’s time to retire. Muterspaw announced last week he’s stepping down in January. He has dedicated 60 percent of his life to law enforcement, the last five as police chief. The job ages a person, especially if you’re as selfless as Muterspaw.

Muterspaw said he knew it was time to retire after he lost his “passion” for the profession.

“I’m worn out,” he said.

So it’s time for the next Muterspaw to step forward. He understands there are potential police chiefs waiting in the wings and Muterspaw doesn’t want to stand in their way. That’s not surprising since Muterspaw promoted Earl Nelson to sergeant, the highest ranking for an African-American officer in the department’s history, and he hired several female police officers.

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“I believe in opportunity,” he said. “There are a lot of great people here. They never got those chances before.”

There was a time when Muterspaw never seemed to be police chief material. He was raised in single-parent homes by his divorced father and mother, and as a child, he lived in 11 apartments in Middletown and Trenton.

“Poor” is how Muterspaw described his youth. “It was rough. We made the best of it.”

But that upbringing also benefited him as police chief. He understood the challenges of some of the residents because he once was in their situation.

“He embodies the community,” said Jeri Lewis, marketing and development leader of Kingswell Seminary, which presented Muterspaw with the 2018 History Maker Award. “He always was non-judgmental and you need that in some of these neighborhoods.”

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Muterspaw said he never planned to spend his entire career in his hometown. He figured to work there a few years, then possible move to a larger department. Then he started planting roots. He and his wife, Julie, have three children, who graduated from Middletown High School.

Five years on the job turned to 10, turned to 20, and suddenly his hair was gray and thinner and they were planning his retirement party.

“I love it here,” he said. “I fell in love with the community and I wanted to make an impact.”

So he never left. If he was going to be police chief, there was no better place than home.

“It made it better for me,” he said. “These are the people I grew up with, the people I’ve been in their home. When there was a problem, it was more personal. A chief owes that to the people. You have to make a difference. They weren’t just people, but family and friends.”

One of his closest friends is Pastor Lamar Ferrell from Berachah Church in Middletown. They met in 1985, graduated from MCS in 1986, and are two of the most influential leaders in the community. Ferrell has been impressed by the connection Muterspaw has with the community.

“He’s not been a good chief, he’s been a great chief,” Ferrell said. “The community has been blessed to have him as police chief.”

But Muterspaw’s retirement has created some “sadness” for the pastor.

“He has the heart to help people,” he said.

Muterspaw also will be remembered as a bridge builder. At a time when police departments were coming under attack for mishandling racially-charged incidents, Muterspaw held town meetings, attended Coffee with Cops, and met with any group that felt mistreated.

He wanted to address any problems before they erupted.

“Open and transparent” was the goal, he said. “If you tell people, ‘It’s under investigation’ they think you’re not telling them something.”

Muterspaw said he wants to do something “less stressful” after 30 years in public safety. He plans to obtain his real estate and pilot’s licenses.

“That’s something that I always wanted to do,” Muterspaw said.

Ferrell said Muterspaw’s longevity in the city has “encouraged” him to spend his entire career in Middletown.

“There is a difference planting weeds and planting an oak tree,” Ferrell said. “Weeds grow up and look like a lot has happened. But there’s no substance. Plant an acorn and it takes time, but there’s strength, stability, maturity of an oak tree.”

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