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Tarpon Springs police chief retires and is replaced by familiar face

Robert Kochen spent the last of this three decades on the force as police chief. Maj. Jeff Young becomes the city’s new chief.
Tarpon Springs Police Chief Robert Kochen.
Tarpon Springs Police Chief Robert Kochen. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2015) ]
Published Mar. 12, 2021
Updated Mar. 12, 2021

After 32 years with the Tarpon Springs Police Department and the last decade spent leading it, Police Chief Robert Kochen retired Thursday. His replacement is a familiar face in the city: Maj. Jeff Young, who has spent most of his life in Tarpon Springs.

Both chiefs were honored, and Young sworn into his new role, during a ceremony at Tuesday’s meeting of the Tarpon Springs City Commission. The commissioners and residents praised Kochen’s leadership and his efforts toward keeping the small city’s police department relevant and robust.

In this 2014 photo, Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen, right, speaks as Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, left, looks on during a news conference to discuss the death of Officer Charles Kondek.
In this 2014 photo, Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen, right, speaks as Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, left, looks on during a news conference to discuss the death of Officer Charles Kondek. [ CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times ]

“We should be proud of this man,” said former commissioner Peter Dalacos, who served when Kochen was appointed interim chief in 2008. “I know the ‘Thank you’s’ are nice, but he has left us a legacy, a strong footing. He’s brought accountability and credibility to our department. He’s given us reason to keep our police department.”

Kochen started as a patrol officer at age 22 and would go on to work as a field training officer and detective and rise to the ranks of sergeant and captain. He served as interim chief for more than two years before becoming the permanent chief in 2010.

“It’s been a long ride,” he said during Tuesday’s livestreamed meeting. “It’s been really rewarding, fulfilling, everything in between.”

Related: Five years later: Tarpon Springs to honor slain Officer Charles Kondek

He also led the agency through one of its most difficult moments: The 2014 death of Officer Charles Kondek, who was shot and killed in the line of duty. The officer’s widow, Teresa Kondek, was in the audience for Tuesday’s ceremonies. She said she hadn’t planned on speaking, but she felt compelled to publicly thank Kochen.

“We’re eternally grateful for everything you did for us,” she said. “I know it was really hard for you ... We can’t thank you enough for being not only a great chief but a great man for us when we needed you.”

For Young, who moved to Tarpon Springs from Staten Island at age 11, Tuesday’s ceremony had extra sentimental value: The city building that houses the City Commission was once his middle school; when he joined the agency in 1993, the police department was located behind the building, and what had once been classrooms were the chief’s office and holding cells.

After graduating from Tarpon Springs High School and attending what was then known as St. Petersburg Junior College, he spent a few years away from home in the Air Force. He said that when he married his wife, whom he met in the service, he told her that as soon as their tour of duty was done they’d move to Tarpon Springs, “our home.”

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“Today, things come back around full circle,” he said. “Standing inside this building, being promoted to chief of police, over 40 years from when I first stepped into Tarpon Springs — it’s surreal.”

Related: Police chief-to-city manager pathway creates sparks at Tarpon commission meeting