Lower Burrell police Chief Tim Weitzel to step down but remain on force
Lower Burrell police Chief Tim Weitzel will step down as the city’s top officer and return to his former position of lieutenant next year in a move that he said would insulate him from being ousted over politics.
“I have to watch my back in 2020,” Weitzel said at a city council meeting Monday.
Weitzel, 45, said he didn’t believe the man expected to become the city’s mayor next year, John Andrejcik, would retain him as chief. Andrejcik defeated incumbent Mayor Rich Callender in May’s Democratic primary and also earned the Republican nomination, putting him in line to become mayor, barring a successful write-in campaign.
Under Pennsylvania’s Third Class City rules, a mayor appoints whoever he or she wants as police chief.
Weitzel declined to provide specifics on why he thought Andrejcik might replace him but said stepping down as chief “was the best way to protect myself from potential political-based actions from the new administration.”
After the meeting, Andrejcik said he didn’t have anyone in mind for the position of chief but would interview candidates for it. He dismissed claims that he had a vendetta against Weitzel.
Andrejcik said Weitzel was “phenomenal” when he recently came to Andrejcik’s church to talk about security.
Weitzel has been a police officer in Lower Burrell for 22 years, including almost eight years as chief. He said he has another 4.5 years until he is eligible to retire.
“I have worked hard for this community, and I plan to continue,” Weitzel said. “I’ll still be here to protect our kids.”
Weitzel has had a high public profile in the Alle-Kiski Valley supporting others in times of tragedy.
He helped the family of late Lower Burrell police Officer Derek Kotecki after he was killed in the line of duty in 2011, and has been involved in community efforts to remember Kotecki. Lower Burrell’s department also provided officers to assist New Kensington police for two weeks following the 2017 shooting death of one of their officers, Brian Shaw, returning the favor for their assistance after Kotecki’s death.
Weitzel said he was proud of his work to help Burrell School District increase security and readiness in response to school shootings across the country. He also has been working with local churches to increase their security after last year’s mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood.
Weitzel also was instrumental in starting the mutual aide SWAT team comprising officers from seven communities in northern Westmoreland County.
Weitzel’s resignation as chief, approved unanimously by council, will take effect at the end of the year.
Several council members appeared to be visibly upset over Weitzel’s decision at Monday’s meeting.
An emotional Mayor Rich Callender said, “I can’t read this,” when he was given Weitzel’s letter of resignation. Weitzel stepped in and read it.
Councilman Christopher Fabry called the resignation “a step backward,” while Councilman Robert Hamilton said it was “shameful and despicable” that Weitzel believed he had to resign as chief to protect his job.
Councilman Christopher Koziarski added, “If this is a sign of things to come, then Lower Burrell has issues.”
Callender said Weitzel was known by state and county officials as one of the top chiefs in Western Pennsylvania, and the mayor credited the chief with improving the department and making it more professional.
“The chief is proactive and not reactive when it comes to taking care of the community,” Callender said.
During the meeting’s public comment period, resident Audra Flemm told Weitzel, “Thank you for taking care of us. It’s sad politics is taking over.”
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .