When Richmond Hill resident Tim Saia made a career move two years ago, it left more than a few people stunned. He had his own successful chiropractic firm in Ford Plaza before, at age 52, Saia sold his practice and joined the ranks of the Richmond Hill Police Department.
"I had always wanted to be a police officer my whole life," said Saia. At the urging of his father, he initially became a chiropractic doctor, but he never lost hope of his childhood fantasy of walking the thin blue line.
"Tim talked to us about wanting to be a cop for about ten years," said RHPD Captain Mark Long who, along with many others on the force, knew Saia the chiropractor. "He has really progressed and turned into a fine officer."
From all accounts, it seemed as if to know Dr. Saia was to know his aspirations to become a police officer. Saia’s chiropractic assistant at his Richmond Hill clinic was Judy Sahlberg, wife to RHPD officer Doug Sahlberg. A conversation with Officer Sahlberg turned into the first chapter of the story of Saia’s transformation.
"I said to Doug one day I really want to be a cop, but I guess the opportunity has passed me by because no one would want to hire a 50-year-old cop," said Saia. "He must’ve left the office and gone right over and talked to Chief (Billy) Reynolds because he came back 30 minutes later and said ‘I just talked to the chief and he said he wouldn’t have any trouble hiring you as long as you went through the academy and jumped through all the hoops that every other cop jumped through before joining the force.’"
Saia said he almost immediately signed up for the academy. Although no guarantees were on the table, Saia said he at least wanted to take this step in order to be marketable.
"I figured this could very well be my last chance to do something I wanted to do for way over 40 years, so I had to act on it," said Saia. "At that point, I didn’t know at what capacity I was aiming for and I had no idea that I’d actually be selling my practice. All I know is, once I went to the academy, I was absolutely hooked."
Every step of his police training seemed to solidify to Saia that he was destined to follow his dream. A dream that became a reality when, upon exiting the academy, he was accepted by RHPD as a volunteer reserve officer.
For four months, Saia was a doctor by day and a cop one to two nights a week. He had what he called "the best of both worlds". He, after all, in no way disliked his medical practice. He said of his chiropractic career: "I had a great career and it was very rewarding. Fate just led me down a different path and I have no regrets that I did that in spite of what I really wanted to do. Hopefully, along the way, I made a few people feel better and get well. To stay in practice 30 years, I had to be doing something right."
Saia said he was partially guided in his initial career path by the high regard his family held for the chiropractic profession. "My grandmother was paralyzed and a chiropractor got her back walking. My brother Rocky had asthma and a chiropractor had corrected that, so chiropractics was just a real natural thing for us to go into," said Saia. "Us" meaning him and his brother Jack, who also became a chiropractor.
Perhaps part of Saia’s regard for law enforcement came from his father. His dad was in law enforcement for 30 years. His brother Rocky chose that path as well.
"The plan was to maintain a full-time practice while being a reserve officer," said Saia. He added that this too changed after a conversation with RHPD police officer Jason Sakelarios in 2005.
Sakelarios told Saia of a full-time opening that became available. Saia approached Chief Reynolds about it and "the chief responded ‘when can you start?’ Not wanting to lose the opportunity, I said right now," Saia said.
Upon officially being hired, Saia put his practice up for sale. After six weeks of working two full time jobs, Saia sold his practice and fully realized his dream of becoming solely a full-time police officer.
"There were so many unknowns going into all this," said Saia. "First of all, it’s not an easy task to sell an entire practice. But everything fell into place so beautifully. It’s like the whole event was ordained under the watchful eyes of God and He sent the right people at the right time.
"To get Richmond Hill was a blessing in itself because it’s widely known to be the premier law enforcement agency in Southeast Georgia," Saia added.
He said he loves going to work everyday for the RHPD and attributes much of his success on the force to former partner and trainer Corporal Susan Willis. "Her patience and tutelage is the greatest instruction I’ve ever had," said Saia.
"I’ve unequivocally made the right choice," Saia said of his career change. "Every single day is a new & exciting adventure. The average person has no idea how complex law enforcement is. Before I went to the academy, I didn’t know myself, but I enjoy the challenge."
When he’s not maintaining law and order, Saia is hard at work working on a master’s degree for criminal justice. One of his areas of study is administration of corrections. He said that particular course has special meaning to him because that was his dad’s, who recently passed away, area of expertise.