THE MAYOR’S REPORT: Policing in the future

Ben Thomas Jr.

WOW! The past two weekends have been beautiful! The front or side porch, or even back yard sittin’ has been wonderful. Oops! I erred in my last article regarding who the Greencastle police chief was in 1962. I’ll correct that in just a minute. Well, I’m on the side porch at sunset just a sittin’ and a thinkin’ about this article for policing in the future.

Greencastle police officers shown in the front row of this 1967 photo are, from left, Floyd Crider, Charlie Daley, Larry Means, John Minnotti, Allen Goetz, and Don Barnhart. Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Mike Sabol is at far right.

But first, who were those GPD officers pictured in the 1967 training photo? Did you notice the stage curtain in the background? That was at the Greencastle-Antrim High School auditorium as police officers and sheriff’s deputies assembled under the leadership of Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Mike Sabol (front row to the right wearing the campaign uniform hat). Years later, Lt. Sabol would be my vehicle and crimes code instructor when I was in training.

THE MAYOR’S REPORTPolice past to present

In pictures:Greencastle-Antrim High School Class of 2022 graduates on June 4

OK … the GPD officers from left to right in the front row were Floyd Crider, Charlie Daley, Larry Means, John Minnotti, Allen Goetz, and Don Barnhart. I also recognized sheriff’s Deputy Bob Shockey in the top left along with officers from other municipal police departments.

Correction … in 1962 the police chief was Bob Shelly. Jerry Provard was a patrolman and would become chief three years later. My sources advise me that Bob Shelly succeeded Oscar Ambrose, who came to Greencastle from the Hagerstown Police Department in the early 1940s. The Ambrose family lived at the intersection of North Carlisle and Madison streets. The police headquarters was in the south-west corner of Center Square where The Record Herald office later occupied the single room. A special thanks to Lon Barkdoll of Greencastle and Bob Martin from the State of Washington for keeping me straight. Mr. Martin grew up in G-A.

So, what is the future of police service? Some of that future is already here. It’s called technology. From using a manual typewriter to very sophisticated, data-driven information, police work relies heavily on information technology, from computers to digital camera systems, be it in public areas, to personal cameras used by citizens outside of their homes that provide valuable investigative information. Body cameras are just around the corner for GPD, however, there are limits and restrictions that all officers must be first trained in, along with policies and procedures to protect our constitutional rights. License plate readers will be utilized later this summer to detect vehicle code violations and wanted persons in vehicles. This technology is simply amazing, scanning thousands of license plates in a moments time.

Greencastle Mayor Ben Thomas Jr.

What else is in the future of law enforcement? Just good old fashioned police work. That’s right … talking to people and relying on the trust between officers and our citizens. I give our personnel credit with information they receive just by talking to people, be it 9 in the morning or 3 in the morning. Listening is a very important tool in law enforcement. Teamwork and sharing information, both internally and externally with other police agencies, has been and continues to be very important. That technology inspires information sharing. You’ve been reading about catalytic converter and other thefts? This could be from groups of criminals traveling going into rural areas looking for opportunities. Law enforcement agencies sharing this information will ultimately culminate in arrests somewhere. That is why I again write … if you hear or see something suspicious, call 911 and report it. Several months ago, GPD made a successful arrest in the middle of the night by an alert citizen calling in a noise complaint. You are always our eyes and ears. Be our partner in reporting suspicious activities. If it’s unfounded, so be it. The officer will just get back on patrol.

Police pursuits are rare anymore. Policies and procedures are in place along with technology relying on investigative follow-up, digital recordings, or camera systems. There are experimental systems under consideration that could disable a vehicle fleeing from the police. The police vehicle is a mobile office with that on-board computer system. Officers possess and are trained in various weapons and techniques. Tasers are utilized when necessary and have saved potential bodily injury to suspects and police officers when taking someone into custody.

As in the past, the future requires continued pro-active police service to our citizens and visitors. We are an Interstate 81 neighbor with upward of 50,000 vehicles passing by every day along with substantial growth around us that impacts Greencastle, from traffic to criminal activity. Law enforcement is cognizant of these challenges even though our 1.6-square-mile area remains the same geographically. Much crime is drug or alcohol abuse related. That has dramatically increased in my five decades of emergency services. The pro-active counseling assistance program that is in place continues to serve our citizens behind the scenes with the co-responder program riding with GPD officers. I pray this program receives even more funding.

Cyber-crime is in the forefront as more and more citizens become victims. How many spam phone calls to you receive daily? How many questionable emails do you receive? Two simple solutions … hang up the phone. Delete suspicious emails.

The future of police services depends on young men and women who apply for a career in law enforcement. I’m proud to say that I’ve worked with excellent men and women over the decades. There was a time when civil service exams were being given and classrooms would be full of men and women desiring to become police officers. That is not the case today. I am very concerned as the safety and security of communities relies on those who are out there 24/7, nights, weekends, and holidays, no matter what the conditions are. What a noble profession. When I instructed the DARE (drug abuse resistance education) program, or had an intern ride with me, several of those students opted for a career in law enforcement. I was always so proud when years later they would greet me and advise they were law enforcement officers. Gee … some are now retired! As time goes by!

Meanwhile, I planted a seed with borough council a couple years ago to consider replacing the ornamental lights around Center Square. I was involved with that program sponsored by the G-A Chamber of Commerce in 1988 as the current lights were erected in 1989. 1988 was a big and controversial sidewalk year in Greencastle. More on that in my next writing. Meanwhile, the sun is setting to the west. The birds are chirping away. Traffic is traveling at a steady pace on South Washington Street.

Gee … we are certainly blessed in G-A. Thanks for visiting with me.