Allentown begins search for new police chief

Published: May 30 2013 10:47:12 PM EDT   Updated On: May 31 2013 05:23:02 AM EDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

“We need a top-notch police chief to lead our department.”

Mayor Ed Pawlowski didn’t mince words during a forum held Thursday night seeking public input about the characteristics, talents, criteria, background and intangibles about the next person who will lead the city's polic force,  which features a total of 217 officers, according to the mayor. Current Police Chief Roger MacLean is scheduled to retire by the end of the calendar year. Pawlowski has indicated he wants to hire the next police chief by October.

“We have a very young department,” Pawlowski said during his opening statement Thursday night. “…The average age is about 9.7 years (of service). We have some great new folks that just moved up in leadership and I hope someday they will even be in leadership of the department.”

But that’s down the road, the mayor said. Right now it was important the new police chief would be able to train, develop and even serve as a mentor to the younger officers to prepare them for the responsibility.

“We have to have a police chief that believes in community policing,” said Kay Pickel, of the now dormant Neighborhood Seven Crime Watch. “…In my experience it made a lot of difference, not only with the residents as they learned to trust a cop, but especially the business owners.”

And Pickel discussed intangibles that would make the next leader likely to succeed.

“I don’t think he should be too young, or too old,” she said matter-of-fact.

She also offered her approval of the current crop of officers on the force.

“We have a wonderful police department,” Pickel said. “…I respect them, I admire them, they are ‘Johnny on the spot’, they are all great men.”

Other city residents noted that the job had to go to someone who was ready, willing and most of all, able.

“We need a chief that is going to walk in here, on day one, that can take charge,” said Ernie Atiyeh, longtime president of a neighborhood crime watch in center city. “The experience of being a police chief is very, very important.”

Other comments made by city residents Thursday night included

-          The chief should be a City of Allentown resident

-          Is experienced, but not near retirement age

-          If not from the City of Allentown, then from the Lehigh Valley or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at least

-          Is reflective of the demographics of the city 

-          Was an advocate of community policing

-          Was physically fit and in shape

-          Educated and also had several years of practical experience

-          Had a detailed three-to-five year plan to move the department forward to coincide with the drastic changes expected from the Neighborhood Improvement Zone in downtown.

-          Placed residents’ ‘quality of life’ among their priorities

-          Proactive with dealing with crime, not just reactive

-          Should be hired with the idea of training his or her successor

The forum was moderated by Gary Cordner, a professor of criminal justice at Kutztown University, who also is a former police officer and police chief in Maryland. Thursday night’s discussion drew about 15 to 20 residents, about a dozen of whom spoke. Pawlowski said another public forum would be held once the list of candidates is whittled down to the final three or four finalists.

The city is paying $30,000 to the Strategic Policy Partnership to facilitate the hiring process.