HAGERSTOWN — Kevin Simmers has seen a lot of crimes during his 25 years with the Hagerstown Police Department.
But the one that sticks out the most, he said, occurred when he was serving on a prostitution detail.
“One 85-year-old guy was on his way to visit his mother and picked up a female officer,” Simmers said. “That was kind of different.”
Simmers, 47, retired from the department June 15 after serving in a variety of positions, most recently as the sergeant of the Downtown Squad.
“This is tearing my heart out,” Simmers said of his retirement. “It’s just really tough. It’s just been a big part of my life.”
Simmers said he joined the police department in 1988 after spending four years as a dog handler in the Air Force. He started out as a patrolman, and gradually worked his way up the ranks to assignments with the detective bureau and the Washington County Narcotics Task Force.
In 2002, he was tapped to run the Downtown Squad.
When he took over downtown, there was a problem with prostitution and drug dealing near the former adult bookstore in the first block of East Washington Street. He said he credited much of the eradication of those problems to Police Chief Arthur Smith, who gave the Downtown Squad the means to drive out the criminals.
“When he put me downtown, he made it clear what he wanted,” Simmers said of Smith’s leadership. “There’s nothing I’ve ever asked for that the chief hasn’t given me.”
Simmers said criminals are attracted to the downtown area for several reasons, including the homeless shelter and a high volume of Section 8 housing.
“All of those things draw the element,” he said.
Despite the many problems, downtown has come a long way in the last decade, Simmers said. The University System of Maryland at Hagerstown was built on West Washington Street, and the adult bookstore was demolished. He said rowdy bars closed down, making way for more respectable establishments, such as Bulls & Bears on South Potomac Street.
In addition, he said, the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, a high school that provides students with an arts-heavy education, was built a few buildings south of Public Square.
Simmers said there still have been occasional problems with downtown bars, but the Downtown Squad has worked with owners to keep trouble to a minimum. Many downtown bar owners, he said, have the cellphone numbers of police officers so they don’t have to go through a 911 dispatcher.
“We try to work with everybody,” Simmers said.
Although many of the officers who served on the Downtown Squad moved on to other assignments within the department, Simmers said he chose to stay in the city’s core.
“I kind of got hooked on the downtown,” he said. “For the last 10 years, I couldn’t have asked for a better job. I’ve met a lot of friends and good people. We were like family.”
Simmers said he wanted to retire while he was still productive.
“I didn’t want to be forced out later,” he said.
Simmers said he plans to enjoy retirement at his Clear Spring home with his wife, Dana, and their three children.