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Allentown meets the candidates for its next police chief

By Catherine Hawley, Reporter, @CatherineH_WFMZ, chawley@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 03 2013 09:06:36 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 04 2013 05:30:24 AM CDT

Allentown meets the candidates for its next police chief

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

The four candidates vying for the Allentown Police Chief spot made their pitches to the public Thursday night.

For two hours, the top picks presented the ideas and philosophies they want to bring to the Queen City.

Nearly 100 people came out to Sacred Heart Hospital to hear from the four finalists. Each one echoed similar ideas for the future of the city.

Joel Fitzgerald, 42, is currently the police chief in Missouri City, Texas. He started his policing career in Philadelphia in 1992.

"I'm energized by the fact that Allentown is ready for some change, and I see the growth here and I want to be a part of it," he said.

Fitzgerald told residents that from day one they will see him in the community, increasing visibility and interacting with the public.

"Right off the bat I think we can have better relationships with members of the community," Fitzgerald explained. "I think community problem solving methods will work here."

Ted Kohuth called himself a known commodity here in the Lehigh Valley. The 56-year-old is a retired Whitehall Township Police Chief and former captain for the Pennsylvania State Police.

"I know the city of Allentown, the residents know and trust me. I've always been accessible to my community," Kohuth shared.

With more than 32 years of public service experience, Kohuth said he won't have a learning curve moving into the position of chief. He also plans to get officers out of their patrol cars and into the community.

"I think community policing is very important and I would certainly introduce a good community policing plan to the city," he said. "Essentially getting the patrol officers to connect more with the community."

Fifty-three-year-old Charles Rapp spent 27 years with the Baltimore police department, and is now working as executive director for the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions.

"You have to have a safe city and you have to have that perception, and that's what the police provide," Rapp described.

His goal would be to change the perception that Allentown is dangerous, and says the department has to earn the respect of the community. He has some programs that could help achieve that.

"There are some things that I think could be done to make it more innovative, more creative and certainly to serve the citizens of Allentown a little better," shared Rapp.

Ronald Walsh is a deputy inspector with the Nassau County Police Department in New York. The 48-year-old is a former NYC police officer and U.S. Department of Justice special agent.

"I think that there is somewhat of a disconnect right now between the community and the police department," he said.

Through his experience running nine separate commands over the years, he says a community policing approach needs to be taken by the department.

"Community oriented policing is not a program," explained Walsh. "It's actually a philosophy; it's an approach to how you interact with your community and how you actually partner and build team work and build trust and confidence."

In August officials received 44 applications for the police chief position. Those applicants were whittled down to a group of seven who were recently interviewed by a panel of community representatives.

Chief Roger MacLean retired in October. He and interim Chief Joe Hanna are among about a dozen of the Allentown department's top brass who were given a Deferred Retirement Option Plan. Those officers must retire by December.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski will interview the finalists Friday. His pick has to be approved by city council.