Perhaps Saline Salutes emcee Heather Feldkamp said it best.
“I didn’t even know Officer Dave had a last name,” Feldkamp said, speaking of Saline Police Officer Dave Ringe when he was honored at the April 22 Saline Salutes banquet.
Ringe is coming up on his 23rd anniversary at the Saline Police Department. In his career, he’s hunted down bank robbers, broken up domestic disputes and pulled drunk drivers off the road – like most other police officers. As fellow long-time SPD veteran Don Lupi said, “He’s a top notch police offer. He’s dedicated to the job and he’s dedicated to the kids.”
The latter part of Lupi’s description is why Dave Ringe was named the inaugural winner of the Saline Salutes First Responder Award. Ringe is known to a generation of Salinians simply as “Officer Dave,” thanks to his work in Saline Area Schools, where he’s taught children about the dangers of drug use and other risky behavior.
The concept of small town police work was well-known to Ringe. His father was a part-time officer in Chelsea, where Ringe lived until middle school.
The family moved when Ringe’s father, who worked at the Rockwell plant, was transferred to Indiana. The family later moved to Oshkosh, Wisc., where Ringe graduated from high school. Following graduation, Ringe joined the United States Marine Corps Reserve. In his last stint in the Reserve his unit was activated during the Gulf War. Ringe’s unit was on stand-by in Okinawa. Toward the end of the war, Ringe’s unit was sent the naval base on Subic Bay in the Philippines. While he was there, Mount Pinatubo erupted with a force eight times greater than the Mount St. Helens eruption. There were also earthquakes. Typhoon Yunya rolled through and left the base in a foot of soaked ash.
“Imagine tornado kind of weather, plus earthquakes. When the volcano erupted it was kind of neat to see the giant cloud take over the sky. But then it was like snowing ash. And then with the typhoon all that ash turned into a mud. We were living in those little Quonset huts like the ones you see in Gomer Pyle. And the roofs were caving in because of the heavy, wet ash,” Ringe remembered. “Trying to remove it was hard because it was heavy and when it hardened it was like cement.”
It was while he was serving in the Marine Reserve that Ringe decided on police work as a career.
“My dad was a police officer and I was in the military so it seemed like a natural fit,” Ringe said.
He and his dad knew many people in the Chelsea Police Department, so Ringe came back to Washtenaw County to begin his career and his training. He went through the training at Washtenaw County Community College and the police academy while writing parking tickets in Chelsea. A Saline Police officer named Matt Phillips told Ringe about the position open at the Saline Police Department.
In 1993, just before he was hired in Saline, he was working several jobs, including loss prevention at Meijer. It was at Meijer that he met his wife, Patti. The same year, he was hired in Saline.
In 1995, Saline Police Officer Herb Payne was getting close to retirement. Officer Payne was the department’s “community officer,” and spent a lot of time teaching public safety lessons in the schools. As a result, he may have been the most well-known officer in the department.
Saline Police Chief Paul Bunten polled the department to see who was interested in taking on the community policing role. Ringe and Officer Bridget Seames both applied. In 1996, both received DARE training in Indiana and split the duties. Seames taught at Houghton and Ringe taught at Pleasant Ridge. Around the same time, Ringe also began teaching public safety to incoming kindergarten students at Safety Town.
Many of those fifth graders from Ringe’s early years are over 30 today.
“There are teachers in the district now who still remember me as Officer Dave from the DARE program,” Ringe said.
Indeed, as his daughters Katia and Madeline noted, in Saline, his father is recognized and greeted everywhere they go.
Ringe knows police work can be tough, even in a small and safe town like Saline. But he believes in the mission.
“It’s not easy walking into a domestic situation. Some of the people we see out in the streets aren’t happy to see us. But people in Saline know we’re working to keep them safe,” Ringe said.
Ringe’s work in the schools makes his job even more rewarding.
“What’s nice getting involved in the schools is that you’re seeing something the positive in the community,” he said. “It helps with your attitude and your mindset.”
Ringe’s work is appreciated by school officials.
“Officer Ringe has been a wonderful asset for our community, You can see his genuine love of working with young people,” Saline Area Schools Superintendent Scot Graden said. “Students connect with him and he has been a strong advocate for partnership between law enforcement and schools. Our district has benefited greatly from his work in our schools.”
Brian Puffer, Director of Saline Community Education, said Ringe creates important relationships with pre-kindergartners at Safety Town.
”When Officer Ringe connects with children at Safety Town he makes a connection with the children that stays with them for life,” Puffer said.
Pleasant Ridge Principal Brad Bezeau also had great things to say about Ringe’s work in the schools.
“Quite simply, he is Officer Dave! It is a name of trust, visibility, and safety for the children of Saline. He has worked incredibly hard at developing meaningful and trusting relationships with the students and various school communities of the Saline Area Schools,” Bezeau said. “Beyond all of that, Officer Dave has fun! He is always quick with a smile or an encouraging word for all of the kids, and he's not afraid to have the tough conversation with a struggling student.”
Bezeau got a sense of the public’s appreciation of his work two years ago when the Saline Police Department announced it was ending the DARE program in the schools. The decision elicited a strong public outcry. He admits it was nice to hear.
“It was nice to see support out there. I feel blessed. There are some departments where that type of community position doesn’t exist. Or maybe you rotate officers out after a few years,” Ringe said. “I really enjoy being in the schools and developing positive relationships with the students.”
The DARE program is gone but Ringe is still teaching public safety lessons on Thursdays in the district. He’s also still involved in Safety Town.
Ringe said he was truly honored to receive the Saline Salutes award but said he thought if anyone in his house deserved an award, it was his wife, Patti.