Blairsville police chief resigns
BLAIRSVILLE--Blairsville officials reportedly wanted Police Chief Jim Guffey to start walking the streets, but the chief instead has decided to walk away from his job as head of Blairsville's police force.
In a special session Tuesday, council voted 4-2 to accept Guffey's resignation as chief, a post he has held only nine months. Guffey has offered to stay on until a replacement is found--possibly until July.
On Wednesday, Guffey expressed frustration with the attitude of some borough officials.
While noting he has strived to bring police operations up to date "from 1953 to 2003," Guffey said other officials "want to cling to old ways...I'm not going to deal with a bunch of people who want to live in the past."
Guffey indicated there had been a series of incidents which contributed to his decision, but he would discuss only one which he said "broke the camel's back."
He said he'd learned that Mayor John Zedick supposedly "wants me to walk the streets of Blairsville, like 50 years ago"--an idea that the police chief reacted to with scorn, indicating there are more productive ways for him to spend his time.
Guffey also indicated he was upset by reports that the mayor allegedly suggested the idea of the chief walking a beat to council without first discussing it with Guffey.
Guffey said the matter came to a head at council's regular April meeting. He said he'd not had a chance to confront the mayor about it.
"The way I see it, I'm not losing" by parting ways with the borough, Guffey said, "Blairs-ville is losing."
Guffey denied rumors that he decided to quit because he didn't want to move to Blairsville from Cranberry Township. He said he had been working with a realtor to find a new home locally.
Beginning from his hire date last Aug. 1, Guffey was given a year to move to the borough.
Also reached on Wednesday, Zedick denied that he'd approached council to suggest a foot patrol for the chief.
"There was a discussion about it, but I never endorsed it," Zedick said. "There's nothing I've said that's derogatory to (Guffey's) tenure thus far."
When he was appointed as mayor last fall, Zedick said, his intent was not to "rock the boat. My objective was to bring things together and give our town a little brighter picture."
Checks with several council members Wednesday found none who professed knowledge of the mayor recommending walking duties for the police chief.
But some recalled that Guffey had raised no objection when, during his job interview with the borough last summer, it was suggested an occasional walk through town should be part of his job performance.
Councilman Paul Masula, who joined Scott Cavender in voting against accepting Guffey's resignation, suggested a "big communication problem" played a part in the chief's departure.
"It's going to cost the town a good police officer," Masula said.
Masula and Jeff Marshall, both members of council's police committee, said they believed the chief was not expected to walk a regular beat, but he was asked to stroll through the community and greet the town's merchants in order to establish good relations with them.
"That never happened," Marshall said. But Masula maintained, "The chief wasn't against doing that. He hasn't had the time."
All council members express-ed regret that Guffey decided to step down as police chief.
Council President Andy Baker called the chief's resignation a surprise and "a disappointment."
"When you have someone who's trying to do a good job, you'll run into some contention," Baker said. "I thought we had this squared away."
Council member Mary Ugoletti said she also was caught off guard. "I was very, very shocked," she said.
She said she felt any dispute with the chief "could have been resolved."
Ugoletti, Masula and Marshall all had praise for the advancements Guffey made in the police department.
Citing the addition of a network of new computers for the chief and borough police officers, Marshall said Guffey "did move the department up 30 some years.
"We wanted a police department that was as top-notch as we could get it, with the funding we have. The money was well-spent."
Ugoletti pointed out Guffey had successfully completed an six-month probation as chief and was presented a formal commendation for developing a new policy and operations manual for the police department.
"I think he has done an admirable job," she added. "He put in a holding cell, which...we never had before."
Suspects who are detained are placed inside a metal enclosure adapted from an elevator cage and security fencing. Previously, suspects simply were handcuffed to a chair.
A security camera allows officers to remotely monitor the detainee from the police station's patrol room.
Ugoletti expressed confidence that the borough will find a suitable candidate to succeed Guffey as chief.
A new chief will have to be hired in accordance with civil service procedures--including interviews and testing. Borough Manager Ron Hood noted Blairsville's civil service commission has recently been reactivated and will need some time to get up to speed with its operating guidelines.
In addition to Guffey, the Blairsville police force currently includes three other full-time officers and two part-timers. But one of the full-time officers has been on duty since February with an Army military police unit at Ft. Dix.
Before signing a five-year contract as Blairsville's police chief, Guffey accepted an early retirement from his job as an administrative lieutenant at the Ross Township Police Department, near Pittsburgh, where he had served 22 years.
At an April 25 open house at the borough police station, before the chief's resignation became public, Guffey estimated the borough invested about $7,000 in recent improvements at the police station--including $3,700 for a new Crime Star computer program.
A records management system, Guffey noted Crime Star can be used to cross-check all police calls that occurred at a particular street location. It also assists in compiling monthly crime reports.