By Jim Walsh
Retiring Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn feels blessed on many levels.
Dorn, 60, chose two dangerous career paths that he pursued simultaneously for decades. He survived 41 years in law enforcement, noting that he buried many officers who were not as fortunate, including two Gilbert officers killed in the line of duty.
Dorn also survived a 36-year-career in the U.S. Army National Guard, including a year-long deployment that included the invasion of Iraq.
Following his family’s long history of public service, there was never a doubt that Dorn would pursue both tracks, even after his uncle, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office deputy, was shot to death in the line of duty in 1965 during a traffic stop.
Tim Dorn was 9 when his uncle, Robert Dorn, was shot to death in August 1965 when he stopped to help a stranded motorist at 91st and Glendale avenues. It didn’t exactly intimidate Dorn, even though it is a traumatic event in his life that he will never forget.
Dorn made it a point to deliver the bad news to family members, making next of kin notifications when possible, sparing his officers from one of an officer’s least pleasant duties. He said he wanted people to know that he cared about them and their loved ones.
“I think some of that goes back to having a death in my own family. It was the only time I ever saw my father cry,’’ Dorn said.
He said he still did traffic stops as chief, trying not to forget what it’s like on the street for an officer, not asking his troops to do anything he wouldn’t do himself.
“There’s nothing more honorable than selflessly serving other people,” Dorn said. “I am blessed that I got to do the two things in life that I wanted to do.
“I got to do something I was passionate about my entire life.’’
Despite a life spent in command of police officers and soldiers, no one would ever describe Dorn as overbearing. He is the opposite, with more of a steady, reserved, understated bearing, trying to inspire others through his own actions.
Dorn will retire on March 10, capping a career that started in Gilbert in 1976, when he was 19. Dorn said he was enrolled in ROTC at Westwood High School and fully expected to go to Vietnam after graduation, but the conclusion of the Vietnam War ended all that.
Former Gilbert magistrate Don Skousen, who also served as a Town Council member and a county justice of the peace during his long career, gave Dorn a heads up that Gilbert was hiring officers. It was a difficult process for the town because the pay was just shy of $600 a month.
Dorn filled out an application and was hired the same day, a process that takes months today with extensive background checks.
Because Dorn was too young to buy a gun in Arizona at the time, his father took him to a Mesa sporting goods store to buy his first service weapon, a Smith and Wesson Highway Patrolman revolver, a standard police firearm at the time. It would be an unheard of practice in today’s world, where police departments issue guns and have strict rules about the types of guns officers can carry.
But Edwin Dorn, a U.S. Border Patrol officer for 40 years and a counter intelligence officer during World War II, knew exactly what his son needed. It was Edwin Dorn’s lifelong commitment to public service, and the slaying of Edwin’s brother, Robert Dorn, that cemented Tim Dorn’s future.
“I knew at an early age that I wanted to serve my country and I wanted to be a police officer,’’ Dorn said.
He said it was difficult at times to juggle both his police and military careers, especially when he was deployed to Iraq, from 2003-2004.
“It’s a very similar tract. There is a lot of commonality,’’ Dorn said. “It’s the pride of serving the country and the pride of serving the community.’’
Dorn said he left the Gilbert police and joined MCSO in 1978 for the opportunity to earn a better paycheck and to work for a larger police department. He returned to the Gilbert police in 2001 as a commander and replaced John Brewer as chief in 2005.
“When I left MCSO, I was ready to make a change. I wanted to make a mark, to make a difference,’’ Dorn said. “I had no intention of being the next chief.’’
But that’s what happened and Dorn ended up guiding the Gilbert police through an explosive growth spurt that was required by Gilbert’s own growth, especially in south Gilbert.
Throughout his career, Dorn said he tried to stay in touch with the community, realizing that his relatively small number of officers could not do their job well without community support.
“The day I lose that trust and confidence of the community is the day I should lose my job,’’ Dorn said. “They trust us to call us. They trust that we will give them the level of service they deserve.’’
Dorn said he also matured during his tenure as chief, realizing it was important to listen to everyone, even people that he knew didn’t agree with him. He realized police need to explain their actions to the public, rather than just giving orders as authority figures.
“Even when you have your differences, I can sit across the table and talk,’’ he said.
Dorn said he decided to retire while he still has his health and can enjoy the rest of life with his wife, Kim. The couple has been married for 37 years. They are planning to make a fresh start in the Gulf Coast region of Texas, where Dorn hopes to volunteer with the American Red Cross and with animal rescue groups. He and his wife will be living near their daughter.
“The biggest danger of this job isn’t chasing bad guys, it’s the baggage that comes along,’’ Dorn said. “I am going out on top.’’