Penn Township police chief taking charge, cracking down
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.”