Nader ends 25-year career

Photo 1: One, Rob Nader in 2016. (Photo used courtesy Katie Woodring).

Photo 2: Chief Nader, always a good sport, poses as the pretend security guard, with a watchdog, overseeing the Communication Department’s stash of canned goods during the City staff’s annual food drive.

From raw recruit to top cop, Covington native never lost patrolman mindset

COVINGTON, Ky. – Outgoing Covington Police Chief Rob Nader has worn a badge for 25 years but insists – at first blush – that he can’t remember the details of anything exciting or noteworthy.

“Everything just blurs together,” he said. “Every day there were problems and cases and calls, and every day I just got up and went on to the next problems and cases and calls.”

Of course, there was the time when, while searching for a serial arsonist, Nader stopped his patrol car to chat amicably with a random guy in a parking lot. When Nader rolled down his window, the odor of gasoline wafted over him, and he watched in disbelief as the guy threw a match into the open door of a work truck parked nearby and took off running. As the truck “whooshed” into flame, Nader leapt out of his cruiser, chased the guy down, and tackled him.

And there was the time he found himself sitting on a rock on the banks of the Ohio River, essentially babysitting a corpse. The person had drowned, and there was nothing Nader could do to save the deceased – just give them dignity by guarding their body until the coroner arrived.

And there was the standoff he supervised as SWAT commander that played out for more than 24 hours to the ongoing tune of crashing thunder from a freak late-December thunderstorm. It ended -- thankfully – with nobody dead, but even today Nader can feel the storm’s reverberations.

And then there was the time a desperate paramedic was struggling to intubate a badly wounded and bleeding woman on a dark street, so Nader knelt down to help, shining a light and holding her steady, cradling her head between his knees. In the harsh glow of the flashlight's beam, he watched helplessly as her eyelids lost their tension, her pupils dilated, and the life left her eyes.

“You could just see it,” he recalled in a soft voice.

Such is the life of a police officer …

Despite Nader’s protestations, it’s clear that he worked in the proverbial “thick of it” during the 25 years he moved from raw recruit to seasoned leader of Covington’s Police Department, a city of 41,000 people connected by three bridges across the Ohio River to the much-larger Cincinnati.

In layman’s terms, “thick of it” means an untold number of tense, combative, and heartbreaking situations, including wrestling jacked-up drug addicts to the ground … putting violent offenders away before they hurt other people … attending to horrific scenes in the aftermath of suicides and violent deaths … keeping spectators away from mangled cars and burning buildings … bringing peaceful end to hostage stand-offs … comforting victims of crime and grieving relatives … and answering questions from community members and reporters.

But during his farewell speech before the Covington Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night, a week ahead of his Aug. 31 retirement, Nader didn’t reference any of those incidents.

Rather, he talked about the deepening challenges of being a peace officer in today’s world, explained his philosophy as a police officer, and mourned his family’s sacrifice due to his full-throttled dedication to the job.

“During 25 years as a police officer in Covington, including the last five years as chief, I have committed my entire heart, soul, intellect, and attention span to serving the Covington public and keeping it safe,” he said. “I’ve loved this job.”

He’s retiring, Nader explained, to spend more time with his family and to improve his finances so he can help his daughters pay for college. He intends to take time off to regroup, then begin his search for a new job. Thus far, he has neither made inquiries nor entertained offers.

As he noted, Nader’s remarks came exactly five years and two days after he appeared before the board to accept the chief’s position. But the timing of his retirement had a second component: Nader said he wanted his successor to inherit a department that was running smoothly.

“It was always a goal of mine to go out on a high note, to leave happy and fulfilled, when things were going well at the department,” he said. “I’m doing that.”

Always a patrolman

A native of Covington and its Monte Casino neighborhood, Nader started with Covington’s police department as a patrol officer on Jan. 13, 1997. On his way to becoming chief in 2017, he filled almost every role in the department, including community relations officer, detective, SWAT hostage negotiator and commander, narcotics supervisor, media relations officer, head of the Patrol and Administration bureaus, and the department’s first LGBTQ Liaison Officer.

Along with two college degrees, he also graduated from the FBI’s National Academy and the Southern Police Institute’s Administrative Officer’s Course – the only Covington officer to have that dual certification.

His favorite role ever, he said, was bike cop – the modern-day equivalent to the old Hollywood stereotype of the burly Irish cop walking the beat, twirling a baton, and talking to the people.

“You’re among the people, you interact, you’re close to all the action, you have unobstructed eyes and ears, you’re exposed, and you’re just there,” Nader said. “I firmly believe – and every officer on Covington’s force knows this about me – that ‘patrol’ is the epitome of being a police officer. It’s public service in its purist form. People want to feel safe and know you’re looking out for them.”

That philosophy explains why as chief he continued to wear a full uniform – including protective armor and a utility belt – rather than a suit and tie like some police chiefs do.

“I not only want to be ready at a moment’s notice to do what a cop does,” Nader said, “but I also never want to never forget what it’s like to see the community from a patrol officer’s eyes. I never want to lose their perspective.”

That’s also why, Nader told the Commission, that he has “insisted” as chief that the department work to maintain a strong relationship with the community.

“As Mayor Meyer likes to tell new officers and recruits when he swears them in, Covington’s police officers are the face of the City,” he said. “We’ve tried to exemplify that. … Police solve crimes, true. But first and foremost, we solve problems.”

Nader said he’s also proud of having shepherded the department through the pandemic and national turmoil, of setting and maintaining high professional standards for training and policies (Covington is one of only three police agencies in Kentucky to be accredited by CALEA), and of working to keep Covington’s force effective and agile despite increasing challenges related to recruitment, retirements, pensions and pay, and the general public’s attitude toward police.

But he warned City leaders – and society – not to take the department for granted, especially the officers tasked with doing an “increasingly undoable” job.

“We expect too much of our police officers,” Chief Nader said. “We expect them to perform miracles and solve all of society’s problems. And often we’re uncomfortable at what they have to do to solve those problems.”

What City leaders say

The City benefited from not only Nader’s engagement but also his personality, City Manager Ken Smith said.

“Rob’s commitment to the department and the city is evident daily in his actions and personal interactions with law enforcement colleagues, City staff, and the public,” Smith said. “He is often found answering calls or being on the radio, and he frequently drives around town taking notice of anything that may affect the department or the city. We’re all going to miss his leadership but probably more we’re going to miss his antics. It was fairly frequently that the chief would say something during a senior staff meeting and I’d have to stop the meeting so everybody could recover. He’s truly always been entertaining.”

The five members of the Commission took turns praising and thanking the chief.

  • “This is hard. I had a few tears earlier,” Commissioner Michelle Williams said. “It’s been a long road. I’ll have to talk to you later. I don’t think I can do it up here.”
  • “I continue to be impressed by how much you care about this city, and how much you have dedicated to it,” Commissioner Tim Downing said. “… You left very large shoes to fill.”
  • Commissioner Ron Washington, himself a former police officer, thanked Nader’s family for their support and sacrifice. “To Chief’s Nader’s family – thank you for allowing your son, your Dad, your husband, to serve our City. It’s one of the toughest jobs there is out there. … I appreciate the worry that must go through a police chief’s mind, not only about himself but about the men and women that serve underneath you.”
  • Said Commissioner Shannon Smith, “The only thing that I can say is to echo the sentiments of my fellow Commissioners and say thank you very much to you and thank you very much to the family, I know it’s a job for everyone, so just thank you very much.”
  • And added Meyer: “Obviously you’ve done a terrific job as chief providing leadership. The reputation of the Covington Police Department has never been higher. The quality of service that we provide to the people of Covington has just been excellent – I saw examples of that (just) yesterday. …”

(Later in the meeting, the Board of Commissioners named Assistant Chief of Operations Brian Valenti as interim chief of the department effective Sept. 1.)

‘Peace out’

As his Covington career comes to close, Nader heaped praise and gratitude on the hundreds of officers he has worked with, both those currently on Covington’s force and those who have retired or moved on.

“Thanks to them, we’re the best damn police department in Kentucky,” Chief Nader said.

And then he gave special thanks to his parents, who gave him a strong work ethic and a blue-collar attitude … his daughters, who have known that “Dad’s always on call” their whole life and used to mimic him walking around talking into “walkie talkies” … and his wife, who he described as his “Northern star” and “brightest light that shines.”

“In closing,” Nader said, taking a long breath and pausing for several beats, “stay sassy, Covington. Peace out!”


Nader’s remarks can seen at NADER'S SPEECH, starting at 7:53.

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