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Chief does double duty filling jail and pews

Most people know Bill Vitt as the Inverness police chief who makes headlines for busting bad guys.

But he is also a devout Christian and pastor of a small church in Hernando County.

"I feel very strongly that we're responsible to man when we break man's law. And we're responsible to God when we break God's law," Vitt said.

The 57-year-old father of three is pastor of Istachatta Baptist Church.

It would seem the work of a police chief and that of a pastor are diametrically opposed. But Vitt thinks the two duties have complemented each other.

"Being in law enforcement has shown me what really goes on in the world," Vitt said. "I've been a part of the real world, dealt with the real world and its given me a better perspective of people, and it has certainly helped me deal with people better from the pulpit.

"Conversely, being a Christian and being able to study God's word has helped me, hopefully, to be a better police chief."

According to friends and associates who have seen Vitt in both roles, he has been successful at winning souls and arresting criminals.

"During my 28 years as mayor, we had five different chiefs, and I always rated Bill Vitt at the top," said Ed Burke, former mayor of Biscayne Park. Vitt was chief of police there from 1965 to 1972.

Biscayne Park is in Dade County, a county often put at the top of crime reports. But Burke said an article printed during the early 1980s in Family Circle magazine rated the town as the fifth safest place to live in America.

"I always felt that on the foundation that Bill laid, we later became an oasis in the desert of crime," Burke said.

Jerry Adler, an investigator with the State Attorney's Office, met Vitt in 1980 when Vitt was the State Attorney's Office's chief investigator in Tavares. At the time, Vitt was Adler's supervisor.

"I saw something very different in the way (Vitt) lived and how he treated people. He had the respect of everybody in that office," Adler said. "I later found out that he was a Christian.

"I was not a Christian at the time," Adler said. "I became a Christian in November 1983, and a lot of that had to do with the example that Bill Vitt portrayed to me."

Vitt was ordained Sept. 29, 1985. He then served as pastor of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church for three years. Starting in 1988, he served three years as pastor of First Baptist Church of Hernando Beach. He has led Istachatta Baptist Church since 1992.

Bill Britt, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Lake Panasoffkee, said when Vitt began attending the church in the early 1980s, he quickly realized Vitt had an insatiable desire to do more than just fill a pew on Sunday morning.

"I was trying to get a feel for him," Britt said. "After observing him and exploring the depths of his soul, I was convinced this boy was minister material."

After Britt was convinced of Vitt's sincerity, Britt met with Vitt's wife of 38 years, Loretta.

"I'm of the opinion that if a pastor's wife doesn't agree with his calling, he's got a real problem," Britt said. A short time later, Vitt was approved by the church's board, and he was ordained by Britt.

Although Vitt was raised by Christian parents in Fostoria, Ohio, and was required to attend church whenever there was a service any day of the week, he doesn't feel as though he truly became a Christian until age 21.

"I used to wonder why God didn't call me to preach when I was 21 years old. It would have given me more time to spread his word," Vitt said. "Now I realize I wasn't ready.

"I think God prepares us in different ways. He prepared Moses by placing him in the desert to herd his father-in-law's sheep for 40 years. I think being in law enforcement (29 years) gave me the perspective of knowing what really goes on in the world."