NEW PORT RICHEY — Moe Rickus' size made him an ideal bouncer. Standing just under 6 feet 3 and weighing 275 pounds, the former nose tackle for the Gulf High Buccaneers worked for three years after graduation taming trouble at bars like the Crown Lounge.
"I learned I could talk to people and de-escalate situations," Rickus said. "I was also big enough to handle it, if I couldn't."
That knowledge helped two years later when he was hired by the New Port Richey police. Starting as a patrol officer, Rickus worked his way up to chief, serving with the department for 29 years.
Today is his last day.
With Rickus' retirement, he ends a six-year shift heading Pasco County's largest police department. Rickus, 52, said he chose to retire because the department's private pension caps out by the 22nd year. Capt. Jeffrey Harrington, the second-in-command of the 37-officer force, will serve in the interim.
Tuesday, at Rickus' last meeting before the City Council, he was praised as a savvy leader and, as council member Judy DeBella Thomas put it, "a great big bear of a guy." Between standing ovations at City Hall, his voice choked up as he thanked his fellow officers.
"You don't know," he said, "how hard they work."
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Rickus — first name Martin, though to most he's just Moe — moved to New Port Richey at the age of 13 from his Tornado Belt home in Farmington, Mo. His father, Donald, wanted to follow the prospect of heavy construction work at projects like Beacon Woods. Rickus, already big, helped his father's business through most of his teenage years by pouring concrete.
When he was 23, Rickus began working as a patrol officer on the midnight shift, earning about $6 an hour. To help pay the bills for himself and his soon-to-be wife, Irene, who was taking post-graduate classes at Nova Southeastern University, Rickus worked his second job pouring concrete about four days a week.
It was a different city then, he said. The town was mostly quiet retirees in older neighborhoods, like the Meadows and Tanglewood, which saw little crime. The work was often simple civil service, so much so that, during Rickus' first weeks on the beat, he wore khakis, a shirt and tie. And, if something did get stolen, he said, a small crew of usual suspects often simplified the investigation.
As such, the department was seen as a "training ground" for young recruits, who were tasked with cruising the city in propane-fueled Gran Torinos. Few starting officers had law enforcement or military experience. Some hadn't even been in a fistfight.
Rickus became a welcome addition when the job turned ugly. Darryl Garman, who retired as the city's assistant chief in 2008, said Rickus didn't shy away from domestic violence calls or downtown bar fights.
"It seems like the drunker the bad guy was, the stupider they became, and they wanted to fight him instead of me," Garman said. "They always went after a guy his size, which never made any sense."
Rickus, who was in the middle of cleaning out his office Wednesday at the department's Adams Street headquarters, laughed about his early days on the force.
"I thought it was fun," he said. "You never knew what your next call was going to be."
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Over the years, as Rickus rose through the ranks of corporal, lieutenant, captain and chief, his job shifted from watching the streets to watching his officers. The need for his sizable "command presence" while on patrol gave way to his need for management and vision — though the dangers of the job never let up.
"One thing I will not miss," he said, "is going to bed and hoping the phone doesn't ring and I find out one of my guys got hurt."
Rickus said he plans to spend his off-time with his children, Christina, 25, and Nicholas, 18, taking his boat out to the Anclote River and working around their home in Golden Acres.
He didn't rule out finding a new job in law enforcement but said he had no idea what he might do next.
"I won't stay retired for long," he said. "Anyone looking for a slightly used police chief, let me know."
Contact Drew Harwell at [email protected] or (727) 869-6244.