VALPARAISO — As Stephen Meyer wraps 35 years this week with the Porter County Adult Probation Department, including just more than six years at the helm, he said his guiding philosophy has been simple.
"If the person on (the) other side of your desk thinks you care about them, you can make a difference in their lives," he said.
Meyer said he has taken more of a social work approach to the job as compared to law enforcement.
This belief that he could make a difference has helped fuel him over the course of so many years in a job that can be a real struggle at times, he said. It has also left him satisfied enough to know when to call it quits and retire.
"I think people can stick around in government jobs too long," he said. "It's a privilege, not a right, to be in these positions."
Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford, who along with the county's other judges will name a new chief probation officer, said Meyer's retirement is a big loss.
"We're losing a lot of experience and quality," he said.
Bradford's own 37 years with county government has tracked right alongside Meyer's time with the probation office.
Meyer said he hired in as a probation officer in 1982 after earning a history major in college and noticing an advertisement in the newspaper. He had intended to pursue a career as an attorney in the footsteps of his late father, Al Meyer, who had served as dean of the Valparaiso University School of Law.
"I had no clue what probation did," he said.
Meyer quickly found out and has never looked back with regret. He and the other probation officers in the county are fortunate, he said, in that community correction efforts are handled by the nonprofit Porter County PACT.
"Steve will be missed by those of us who work closely with him and by the community he served," said PACT Director Tammy O'Neill.
"Throughout his time with the probation department, Steve participated in, and advocated for, practices that promote positive change in participants, the criminal justice system and the larger community," she said.
Porter Circuit Court Judge Mary Harper also lauded Meyer's efforts.
"Steve is highly knowledgeable about the technical aspects of probation and how the use of probation, when appropriate, fits into the overall justice system," she said.
Meyer said a key element is recognizing that the 1,500 offenders on formal probation and the same number on unsupervised probation are not all the same and that programs need to be tailored to meet those individual needs.
"If you can get people to change the way they think, you can get them to change the way they act," he said.
The local efforts have paid off, Meyer said. Porter County sent 66 people to the Indiana Department of Correction last year, he said, which is impressive considering it's the ninth largest county and yet 39 other counties across the state sent more offenders to prison.
"We've always been at the forefront of alternative sentencing programs in this county," he said.
Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel lauded Meyer's contribution to the local criminal justice team.
"In the 29 years I have worked with Steve, he has unwaveringly exhibited integrity, hard work, a strong moral compass and compassion," Gensel said. "He always viewed being a probation officer as a calling, not merely a job. He has served the citizens of Porter County well and will be missed by his many friends in county government."