Fearless Monessen cop off beat after 40 years
When Lt. Lloyd Aldrich first patrolled the streets of Monessen in January 1973, it wasn't long before his chief issued a warning – for being too friendly.
“When I first got on, I tried to treat everybody nice, and (Chief) Bruce (Pezzelle) called me in the office and told me I'm going to have to start getting in their pockets … start citing and arresting them,” Aldrich said. “Guys I loafed with for years turned against you and start avoiding you. But once I started locking them up ... and let them know, if you were my friend, you wouldn't do the things you do in front of me. Respect me as I respect you. If you don't, you're going to jail.”
After more than 40 years on the beat, Aldrich, 68, finished his final shift 10 p.m. Sunday before retiring from the Monessen police force.
Aldrich is known to most as Yo Yo, a nickname bestowed by his father, James.
Aldrich leaves a reputation as no-nonsense officer who demanded respect and showed little fear – from breaking up riots to accepting all challenges.
“I let them know I wasn't taking no wooden nickels,” Aldrich said during break from his final shift Sunday evening. “The people made you like that.
“If I have to shoot you, you're as good as shot. That's all there is to it. I'll treat you fair, but if you want to knuckle, I guess we're going to knuckle then.”
Aldrich said an officer can't back down once he or she makes a decision.
“You have to go through with it, right or wrong,” he said. “If it's between me or them, I don't know about you, but I'm going home at night.”
Aldrich's tenure was not without controversy. He was suspended twice and was once sued in a high-profile Taser incident at Monessen High School – but never compromised his approach or attitude.
Monessen Patrolman David Yuhasz spent most of the past eight years working the 3 to 11 p.m. shift with Aldrich. Accompanied by a belly laugh, Yuhasz said he had “Yo Yo stories.”
“It was never boring. He keeps you on your toes,” Yuhasz said. “He's almost a figurehead in the community. Everyone knows Yo Yo. He is very easy to get along with, but he has that old-school mentality. … He's known to clear a large group within a matter of seconds.
“You could never tell he's 68 years old. He has more energy than I have.”
When police Chief Mark Gibson started as a part-time patrolman in 1982, he was paired with Aldrich.
“It was an education. … Yo Yo was fearless,” Gibson said. “I don't know how to explain it. He just has a different way about him. Yo Yo did his police work Yo Yo's way.”
Aldrich served one year in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and suffered a minor injury before returning to the U.S. He recalls being caught mid-shower without water once as the North Vietnamese launched an artillery barrage.
“It was like the Fourth of July,” he said. “I was all soaped-up, running back to the bunker in my bare feet with a towel wrapped around me.”
Out of the Army, Aldrich worked several jobs, including one as a short-order cook. He dabbled in construction and worked at a sheet metal plant and in meat packing.
He moved for a short time to Cleveland to be near his sister.
“When she heard I wanted to join the police force, she sent me back home,” Aldrich said.
“I went to Washington Institute of Technology for drafting, and I took the (police) test here and got on. I had five months left in drafting school, but I quit. I never did go back to get my degree. I just stayed here.”
Aldrich started out on foot patrol in the First Ward, from Tyrol Boulevard to Third Street, and the Second Ward, which stretched across the downtown business district.
“When I started, they just give you a gun and put you out there,” Aldrich said. “Usually you walked all night, regardless if it was raining or snowing.”
Aldrich said no weekend passed without having to deal with a fight.
“When the mill was open, those old guys would be drunk, and they'd want to fight. And you'd have to fight them physically,” he said. “It wasn't like today with these kids that want to run their mouths from a distance. They throw rocks at the police cars or block them with garbage cans, but not at my car.”
Aldrich claims he never feared for his life on the job.
“It was the other way around,” he said, easing into a growling laughter.
He recalled breaking up a massive fight in the 1980s outside the old VFW on Seventh Street by firing his pistol into the air toward the river.
“Half of them were jumping into cars, hanging out windows or diving over hedges,” Aldrich said. “I wish I had a camera, because it was funny.”
Aldrich said that after his experience in Vietnam, he never lost sleep over police work.
True to his principles, Aldrich arrested his son, after hearing a familiar license plate number read over the scanner for a robbery call in Dunlevy.
“I went down by the Speers Bridge, and he comes past and he waves,” Aldrich said. “He had the nerve to wave at me. I put the light on and pulled him over and called for backup.
Aldrich said he arrested his son, Sherman, and put him in the back seat of the cruiser.
“Charleroi (police) came. … They came back and said they found the money behind the steering wheel, and there was no harm done and to let him go. And I said, ‘No thank you, don't do me no favors.'
“How can you arrest anyone else if you can't arrest your own? If they let him go, they make a monster out of him and he'll keep doing the same thing.”
Aldrich made headlines last year when the family of a Monessen juvenile said the officer used excessive force on their son with a Taser during a large fight at a 2010 high school basketball game.
Aldrich said he'd do the same thing over again.
“I was in the right, because he was being disrespectful. And it wasn't like I put the Taser on him for five seconds,” Aldrich said. “I was just going to put him out of the game, and he took off down the hallway. … We went to court and they settled, but you never really win a lawsuit. He didn't get what he thought he was going to get.”
After 12 years on the force, Aldrich was promoted to lieutenant.
He said his lone regret was never making captain – and the one thing he won't miss is responding to domestic calls.
“If you have to arrest a wife or the husband, you have to watch, because the other one wants to jump on you,” Aldrich said.
“They call and they complain. Then, when you go to arrest him, she wants to get combative, so you end up having to get tough with her and arrest her.
Aldrich said he had to use his Taser on a good friend – a former football teammate.
“He and his girlfriend were fighting,” Aldrich said. “He goes to jail like anyone else.”
Aldrich and his wife, Rose, will remain in the city, and he will continue to haul scrap in his truck.
“There are some guys who can't wait to retire,” he said. “You've got to love it, and I loved my job. You take the bitter with the sweet. I married this job; there was no separation or divorce … I was there to stay.
“Out of all the jobs I had, this was a cake job. I loved the action. I wanted to stay until I was 70, but as far as pay-wise, this was the best time to go.”
Gibson said the department will miss Aldrich as a cop and as a one-of-a-kind personality.
“I just think it was good to have him in our department. It helped in many situations,” Gibson said. “I'm going to miss him just for being himself. He was unique, to say the least.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.