After 25 years of service, former Zephyrhills Police Chief David Shears is settling into retirement life.
Throughout a respected career, Shears at some point worked every hour of the day, every day of the week and every day of the year.
Now, he gets to relax.
His last day in uniform was May 31.
To Shears, stepping away from law enforcement altogether is “bittersweet.”
“You enjoy the job, and enjoy doing the work and everything,” he said, “but, also I think with veteran officers there comes a point it’s time to move on and let the next generation come in.
“For me personally, my goal was to get my 25 years in here at the police department.”
He’ll most cherish memories of his time on patrol.
“The biggest thing I am going to miss is actually being out there working with the community as a cop on the street; that was something I enjoyed,” he said.
Shears, 54, exits the department satisfied, with what he considers a job well done.
“I can walk out with my head up high, feeling good about the agency and everything that we did here,” he said.
Zephyrhills leaders agree.
City Manager Steve Spina shared his appreciation for Shears’ service, during a May 22 city council meeting.
Spina said, “Chief Shears led his department — and the men and women working there — with quiet resolve, moral integrity and high ethical standards. While every department and every organization experiences turbulence and some level of discord, never in his tenure as chief were there any ethical or moral lapses that compromised or embarrassed his coworkers, the city of Zephyrhills or his community.”
Other councilmen expressed similar sentiments.
“He has been a leader, and he has taken this city and molded it into a safe, protected city,” Council president Alan Knight said. “He’s really just somebody that I want to tip my hat to.”
“He’s just been a tremendous part of this city,” Councilman Charles Proctor said. “He’s helped transform our police department into the modern police department that it is today; he’s left it in great hands.”
Shears is often described as ‘a cop’s cop.’
A native of Flint, Michigan, Shears relocated to Florida in 1982.
Prior to joining the force, Shears worked in internal security, and then became an electrician.
Law enforcement, however, was his true passion.
“I always wanted to be a police officer,” Shears said. “I was blessed that my parents paid for my academy.”
Shears joined the Zephyrhills Police Department in 1992 as a patrol officer.
He wasn’t the only one in his family to don the badge, either.
His older brother served in the Tampa Police Department, while his younger brother was an officer at the New Smyrna Beach Police Department.
In Zephyrhills, Shears moved up the ranks to detective, sergeant and captain, before being named the city’s ninth police chief in 2008. He replaced former chief Russell Barnes, who resigned after accusations he created a “flex time” policy that allowed employees to receive time off instead of overtime pay for extra hours worked.
Over the years, Shears worked with and trained scores of numerous veteran officers; supervised patrols and actions; oversaw the civilian side of the department; provided for records and evidence, communications and dispatch, volunteer services and operating equipment; and equipping the department.
His first year as acting chief was a “learning experience,” he acknowledged.
“It was a little bit more of a difficult process for myself,” Shears said. “I had to learn the administrative side rather quickly, and also I had to put together a budget, which is very tough on someone that’s never done one before.”
But, the most challenging aspect, he said, “was getting a mindset that you’re responsible for everybody in (the) police department. Decision-making that affects not only the police department, but the community — that was something that you better learn real quick.”
He preserved two key citywide streaks: all of the city’s homicides were solved, and no Zephyrhills police officer was killed in the line of duty.
There were other highlights, too.
In 2015, starting officer wages increased to $43,000.
Training opportunities, such as in-house de-escalation instruction, also ramped up.
Shears also helped modernize the department’s property room, instituting bar coding.
“I believe that we have made this a better agency than it was when I took over,” Shears said. “We have made improvements throughout the years that had really bettered this police department.”
Shears also emphasized high standards in ethics and integrity.
“Transparency has got to be a big thing in this line of work,” he said. “Whether we’ve made a mistake or we’ve done good, it needs to be out there so people understand that you’re doing the right thing, and sometimes the right thing isn’t always the most pleasant.”
Meanwhile, efforts to make Zephyrhills safer are still needed, Shears said.
Addressing the city’s drug problem is one approach.
“The majority of crimes that are committed—in any community—is generally drug-related,” Shears explained. “I think combating that situation, but also having the backing of our State Attorney’s Office, is something that needs to be looked into and firmed up, because that’s what’s going to deter a lot of crime that is committed here with thefts and all the burglaries and property crimes that are being committed by people addicted to drugs.”
In hindsight, the police chief role was burdensome, at times.
Besides navigating the city’s budget crunches around 2010 and 2011, Shears prepared for countless retirements and defections inside the police department –often to higher-paying agencies.
Around that period, he battled two bouts of colon cancer, and underwent an assortment of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.
Dealing with cancer, Shears said, was “very difficult.
“I had to keep a positive mindset that we could handle anything, and that’s the way I looked at it. I’m just thankful that I had a staff to step up.”
He’s been cancer-free since 2012.
With new-found free time — and less stress — Shears plans to take a family vacation, with visits to North Carolina and West Virginia.
House repairs and fishing are on his initial retirement agenda, too.
“I’ve got to learn how to fish again,” Shears said, jokingly.
Zephyrhills police Capt. Derek Brewer is serving as interim chief, until the city fills the position permanently.
Besides losing Shears to retirement, the department is also losing another long-time veteran. Zephyrhills police Capt. Robert McKinney, a member of the department for 15 years, retired, effective June 2. He had been in law enforcement for 25 years.
Published June 6, 2017