A life of service

Mark Soroka/For the Observer-Reporter

Monongahela police Chief Brian Tempest is retiring after a 47-year career in law enforcement.

Monongahela police Chief Brian Tempest said he won the lottery when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. For Tempest, conscription was the best thing that could ever have happened to him.

“When you are drafted, the military doesn’t ask you what you want to be,” said Tempest. “They just assign you to a position. Fortunately, they made me a military policeman. That was a turning point in my life, and I’ve been enjoying my career for the past 47 years.”

Tempest, who is retiring as police chief on Wednesday, wound down his final weeks doing what he always does – helping to protect and serve the people of Monongahela.

“You never know what each day will bring,” said Tempest. “One day you might be writing a parking ticket and the next day you could be investigating a felony crime. Working in law enforcement has been a very interesting experience. I have a lot of fond memories.”

Tempest, a lifelong resident of the city, graduated from Monongahela High School in 1970 before he was drafted in 1971 and stationed at a U.S. military base in Hanau, Germany. To his surprise, Tempest found that he enjoyed working as a military policeman.

“At that point, being a policeman was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Tempest. “But I actually liked the work. I started to think that this was something I’d like to do once I returned to civilian life.”

When Tempest was discharged in 1973, he returned to the Mon Valley, where he started his career in law enforcement. Tempest worked as a patrolman for the New Eagle Police Department from 1974 to 1985, under the tutelage of Capt. Ted Brown.

“I learned a lot from Captain Brown during my time at New Eagle,” said Tempest. “He treated everyone with the same respect, no matter if you were a homeless person or the CEO of a large company. Once we had to put someone in jail, but the next day groceries were mysteriously delivered to the family of the guy who was in lockup. That’s the kind of person Captain Brown was. And that made a deep impression on me.”

Tempest accepted a position with the Monongahela Police Department in 1985. Shortly after Bob Kepics was elected mayor of Monongahela in 2007, he picked Tempest as the city’s new police chief.

“Mayor Kepics wanted to go in a new direction with the city’s police department,” said Tempest. “At that time, we had some issues going on. One of the first things I did was to have every officer take a drug test. We ended up arresting one of our officers and we eventually cleaned things up.”

One of Tempest’s other top priorities was driving the drug dealers out of Monongahela.

“We were keeping an eye on a house on Carson Street,” recalls Tempest. “I told the neighbors that I would do whatever it took to stop the drug activity, even if it meant having one of our officers sit on a lawn chair in front of that house. Within a month, we made an arrest and during the coming years, we made hundreds of other drug-related arrests. Thanks to the help of Steve Toprani, who was the Washington County district attorney at the time, along with the Washington County Drug Task Force, the FBI and the IRS, we started to straighten things out.”

Tempest said that law enforcement has changed dramatically since he became a police officer 47 years ago.

“When I first started, we wrote everything down on three-by-five index cards – whether someone stole a neighbor’s lawn mower or someone was involved in a homicide,” he said. “We also hunted for license plate numbers and different charges in a big blue book that was about 12 inches thick. Today, all you have to do is press a button and you instantly get all the answers. Technology has really made a huge impact on law enforcement.”

But for all the advancements in technology, law enforcement is still essentially the same, added Tempest.

“People skills are as important as ever,” he said. “I used to watch police officers carry blackjacks, mace, zappers and Tasers. And I would tell them that their best tool was their voice. I always remind my officers that they should treat people the way they want to be treated.”

Tempest said he is proud to be leaving the Monongahela Police Department in good hands.

“We have a great group of police officers,” he said. “They made my job a lot easier. The city will be well represented with Officer Kevin Harris as its new police chief.”

Kepics said Monongahela couldn’t have asked for a better face for its police department than Tempest.

“Chief Tempest is one of the most down-to-earth people you could meet,” he said. “He has always been friendly and approachable. At the same time, he could be tough when we had to clamp down on crime. Thanks to Chief Tempest’s leadership, we were able to get drugs off of our streets.”

Tempest said he wants to spend his retirement enjoying a slower pace of living.

“I don’t want to work for anyone else, but I would definitely consider doing some volunteer work,” said Tempest, who previously served as president of the Monongahela Baseball League and Monongahela Wildcat Football League, and has coached basketball. “I have enjoyed working with younger groups.”

As Tempest prepares to retire, he prefers to avoid the fanfare and wants to go away quietly.

“I’m not into retirement parties,” he said. “I just want to fade away. It’s funny when I think back to my good friend, Captain Ted Brown. We used to kid him that when he was 65 years old, he would still be working and coming to work in a walker. Well, guess what? I continued working, well past the age of 65. It’s finally time to retire, but I will always treasure my memories of working for the residents of Monongahela and New Eagle.”

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