After 35 years of police work, the Oklahoma City Police Department's “Master Yoda” of teaching crime prevention techniques is retiring.
Master Sgt. Charles Epperly, 58, community relations officer in the 141-square-mile Hefner Division that stretches across most of north and northwest Oklahoma City, will step down May 31.
He is credited with training hundreds, possibly thousands, of neighborhood crime patrol volunteers since being named the Hefner Division's first community relations officer in 1990.
Epperly trained another veteran Oklahoma City community relations officer, Master Sgt. Michael Loruse, of the Will Rogers Division in central Oklahoma City.
“He was my mentor,” said Loruse, who has been a police community relations officer for 11 years.
“I had spent 21 years in patrol and had very little preparation for this. Charlie took the time to show me the programs and how he works with neighborhoods and businesses.”
Epperly has proved such a valuable resource over the years, Loruse said, that “I nicknamed him ‘Master Yoda' of police community relations. It's out of total respect and he knows it.”
Epperly, who estimates there are two dozen crime patrols and about 70 neighborhood watch groups in the Hefner Division, said credit should go not to himself but to the neighborhood officers and volunteers.
“These people have a pretty thankless job,” Epperly said.
“I get paid to do this. These board members, the volunteers — they keep things moving, and they do it for no financial reward. They do it to see that they have a better neighborhood.”
Epperly, who was a patrolman for 12 years before taking his present job, said he is a liaison between the police department and neighborhoods, businesses and social and civic groups.
Awareness is trend
Epperly said he sees a trend of people becoming more aware of how to lessen the chance of becoming a crime victim, and of heightened awareness of crimes.
“People see crime reported on television and in the newspaper. And in this day of social media, neighborhoods will have an incident, and it is quickly — I mean quickly — known.
“I do think people have become more proactive toward their own safety, from being aware of what's going on to securing their homes and businesses.”
He passes along tips regularly to residents and neighborhood patrol volunteers on home security and how to guard against burglaries.
Epperly has conducted numerous training sessions for crime patrol volunteers at the Hefner Patrol Division's briefing station, 3924 NW 122. His final training session was scheduled for late April.
“Charlie is the ‘father' of crime patrol,” said Jennifer Meckling, programs coordinator for Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma, which contracts with the police department to set up crime patrol and neighborhood watch training, and to maintain a database of neighborhood crime reports.
“His retirement will leave a big hole in police-community relations,” Meckling said.
Neighborhood Alliance's board of directors presented Epperly its Honor Award in 2010, given for outstanding work assisting Oklahoma City neighborhoods.
Walt Spencer, who lives in Windsor Hills near NW 23 and Meridian Avenue, said Epperly helped his neighborhood establish a crime patrol more than 20 years ago. The patrol remains active, he said, with nearly 30 two-person teams patrolling the neighborhood regularly.
“He told us when we saw something we didn't like, to inform the police,” Spencer said, “then stand back and get out of the way.”
Epperly said Neighborhood Alliance deserves much credit for its work with the police department and neighborhoods.
“They are a bunch of saints there,” he said. “They'll tackle any neighborhood-related issue, and tackle it with a smile.”
Epperly lives with his wife, Ashlie, in Oklahoma City. They have two grown sons and four grandchildren.
Epperly said his plans following retirement are “fluid.”
“This job has been my hobby,” he said.
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Charlie (Epperly) is the ‘father' of crime patrol. His retirement will leave a big hole in police-community relations”