ShareThis Page
News

Penn Township police chief taking charge, cracking down

| Friday, Jan. 27, 2012

Criminal arrests rose by 18 percent, the number of citations skyrocketed by 75 percent and Penn Township police handled an increase of 7,500 complaints in Chief John Otto's first year leading the department.

The boost in cases happened while Otto implemented new initiatives to revamp work schedules, set long-term goals for the 20-officer department and encouraged safe school environments.

All of that happened while police fielded more than 16,800 complaints last year, an increase of nearly 82 percent over 2010.

Otto chronicled his first year in a memo to township commissioners this month.

"(The officers) are very active in producing the things that I want them to produce, and that is a very professional, proactive, results-oriented police department," Otto said. "We will solve problems, we will solve crimes, and we want to know what's going on in this township so that when things happen, we have the best chance of solving those crimes."

Township commissioners unanimously hired Otto on Jan. 17, 2011, giving him a six-year contract to oversee a department with a $3.28 million annual budget. Otto replaced Paul Ronca, who was brought in to succeed former nine-year Chief Mike Mastroianni.

Ronca resigned in July 2010 after less than two years on the job.

Ward 3 Commissioner Paul Wersing credited Otto, a 17-year member of the department, with having a "good, successful year" and providing some stability for the township.

"We obviously made a bit of a mistake with Ronca," Wersing said. "Our intent was to go inside the department to right that wrong."

Otto, 40, said Ronca's tenure left a "bad taste in my mouth" because he didn't think the former chief had enough of an interest in the community or the department. Instead of a long-term vision, the department generally operated on a day-to-day basis.

That changed with a move to a formal roll call for each shift, featuring supervisors who address how best to coordinate patrol routes and track cases from shift to shift.

Otto eliminated the long-standing 28-day work cycle in which all patrol officers rotated through morning, afternoon and overnight shifts. He derided the former shift cycle as an "old-mill schedule."

Now, officers bid for shifts based on seniority. The afternoon shift usually remains the least popular because an officer has very little time in the evenings to see his family.

With the latest setup, a newer officer can work an afternoon shift three weeks out of four, swapping with a more senior officer on the fourth week to take the morning shift.

"It allows them seven more days (a month) at home in the evening with their wife and kids," Otto said.

The chief, a father of two, wants the department to emphasize the safety of students. Patrol officers occasionally follow school buses to ensure motorists are driving safely while children are getting on and off the bus.

Otto stresses having officers interacting with students in the schools. An officer meets with elementary and middle school students through the D.A.R.E program, and another officer serves as a school resource officer in the high school.

Ward 2 Commissioner Ed Sullivan said Otto followed through with a high percentage of the priorities that he set in his first year.

"He understands that our municipal budget is stretched and that running a cost-effective operation is essential," Sullivan said. "He made tough decisions in initiating new rotations. He was able to increase arrests while decreasing car mileage. He also knows that the visibility of the police department, especially in the school, is of utmost importance.

"I feel he will continue to learn and develop with the department over upcoming years."

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me