'I wanted to make an impact'

Becky Vargo • May 13, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Editor’s note: Michigan is celebrating Police Week May 12-19. The Grand Haven Tribune is honoring local police officers by giving our readers some insight into their jobs.

Early in his career, Grand Haven Department of Public Safety Detective Bryan Tithof took the words of retired Sgt. Bob Marod to heart. The veteran officer advised the younger Tithof to remember that he lived in the same community where he worked.

You can go out and write as many tickets as you want, the sergeant told Tithof, but there will come a point when you go into a store with your family.

“You don’t want to have someone call you the worst person in the world in front of your wife and kids,” Tithof said he was told. “That obviously had an impact on me. I remind him of it every time I see him.”

Tithof said that, from the moment he started police work at age 23, he realized that he had good rapport with people and thought he would be a good investigator. The Western Michigan University graduate started with the Grand Haven department in 1993, working foot patrol until he took a full-time position in late 1995, a spot vacated with the death of his friend and fellow officer, Scott Flahive.

In late 1998, Tithof joined the West Michigan Enforcement Team for a three-year stint. He started as a rotating detective when Larry VanHouten retired in 2002. He became a full-time detective in 2010 with the retirement of Tim Bulthuis.

“From the moment I got into the position, I wanted to get into good cases that had true meaning to them,” Tithof said. “I wanted to make an impact. When I deal with some of the major cases that come up, I think I’m making a difference for the family members and the victims.”

Tithof said that it is reassuring to walk with these people down a road where they didn’t want to go, and making it better for them. Such a case for him was the 2008 double homicide of a downtown jewelry store owner and a customer.

“You think of what those families went through,” he said, “and the resolution that came from what a whole bunch of law enforcement officers could do for that family and the community.”

Tithof noted that it was a huge team effort of a lot of different police agencies to bring about the resolution of the case.

“We were able to do something for the family and the community,” he said. “Knowing that as a detective is kind of your defining moment.”

Tithof said a typical day could include getting referrals from Child Protective Services, doing follow-up for road patrol and managing the evidence room.

“I could be sitting on a case for a month, and the next thing I know, something comes in and you’re back on the case,” he said. “Or you get a call from the supervisor that they have something they need you on right now. This could be any time of the day or night, although it’s not like it happens every day.”

Tithof said that his wife and two sons are understanding of his career.

“They’ve grown up with it,” he said. “They totally get it when I get the phone call in the middle of the night. For my family, they’ve realized, if dad gets called, he’s got to go.”

Tithof said after the double homicide, he had to send his family off on vacation without him. 

“I couldn’t do it that year,” he said. “This was not one of those deals that could be wrapped up in a couple of hours.”

The detective said that the double homicide was one of the worst cases he ever handled. Working child sexual assault cases is bad, too.

“You’re dealing with truly innocent victims that are pretty violated,” he said.

Despite the heavy issues he deals with at work, Tithof said he tries hard not to take it home.

“I don’t tell them what I am going out on,” he said. “I don’t bring it home either.” 

One of the things he likes best about his work is when he can help solve a case via a task force, or just collaborating with outside agencies.

At home, he spends time coaching his kids in baseball or going hunting or fishing. 

What stands out for him about the Grand Haven Department of Public Safety, Tithof said, is that it is very community-oriented and there are many long-serving officers and detectives.

“We can talk to each other, and the majority of people (in the community) feel they can talk to their police officers,” he said.

Tithof said he wants to be part of the community where he lives, so work, coaching and volunteering “kind of rounds out the whole perspective for me.”

“I want to do things around here that I think make a difference,” he said.

Tithof said he’s learned a lot over the years from more experienced officers and hopes he has passed on the best of that to the younger employees.

“I think I’ve done OK,” he said.

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