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City council fires Allentown cop, hires three

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 20 2014 04:45:15 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 20 2014 04:51:23 AM CST
Allentown City Council
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

One police officer was fired and three were hired by Allentown City Council Wednesday night.

Terminated was Jeffrey Rush, who had been on the police force since 2002.

Rush was terminated by a 5-0 vote.

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Recently-elected council member Daryl Hendricks abstained from voting, but declined to explain why. Hendricks retired after a long career in the police department on Dec. 25.

Council president Julio Guridy was not at the meeting.

Council vice president Raymond O'Connell stressed the vote to terminate Rush would be taken with no dialogue by members of City Council and no public input from people attending the meeting.

The resolution passed by council states Rush violated his oath of office, police department rules and regulations and state laws.

On Sept. 23, 2013, an intoxicated Rush, who was off duty, left Candida's Bar near 12th and Chew streets. He kicked in a vehicle's window and pushed window air conditioners into nearby homes.

Witnesses described him as completely wasted, shouting obscenities and racial slurs and even threatening to shoot people. One man said Rush grabbed him by the throat.

Rush was placed on administrative leave from the police department following the incident.

On Feb. 4, he pleaded guilty to public drunkenness. He was ordered to pay $750 in fines, court costs and restitution. Charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief were withdrawn. All the charges were brought against him by his own police department.

Rush was suspended without pay on Feb. 10 by Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald, Sr., pending a hearing before City Council.

After the council meeting, Fitzgerald said he recommended that Rush be terminated.

He said the incident happened before he became chief, but stressed Rush's actions were not consistent "with what we expect from a police officer in Allentown."

O'Connell raised the issue by announcing City Council met in a closed-door executive session at 6 p.m. Wednesday relating to the termination of Rush.

The resolution voted on by council states a hearing on the case was held before council Wednesday. It also states Rush's discharge is effective Feb. 10, the date he was suspended.

More police needed

The new officers hired by a 6-0 vote are Brian T. Best of High Bridge, N.J.., Adam H. Dennis of Bristol, Conn., and Christopher R. Matthews of Bethlehem.

Their base salary as patrolmen will be $50,192 a year.

With three new officers, Fitzgerald told City Council the police department has 204 officers. "We'll still be down 12."

O'Connell said 204 is not enough: "We've got to do whatever we have to do to get more police officers in this city, on the streets, in the neighborhoods. That has to be a major priority."

Said Fitzgerald: "I certainly appreciate that statement and I echo it." He told council he expects the department to be at full strength within the next few months.

After the council meeting, the new chief said he would like to get it up to full strength "before the weather breaks," adding: "A few months would be too long. We need to accelerate this process. It's so important to get back up to 100 percent."

Fitzgerald estimated the three new officers won't be on the streets of Allentown for five or six months, after they pass physical and psychological testing and go through training at the police academy to become state certified.

He told council the police department now has a mechanism to expedite the hiring process, so people who already are police officers do not have to go through academy training. He later said that should get more police on the streets faster, possibly only a few weeks after they are hired.

He told council the police department now is marketing itself "toward officers that don't need as much training and will be readily available to hit the streets sooner."

But he stressed the department will not be cutting corners on requiring them to pass physical and psychological examinations, as well as background checks.

"We're down 14 officers," said the chief. He said before Rush was fired and three officers were hired Wednesday night, the department was down 16.

Fitzgerald said 12-14 police officers retired at the end of last year.

Council member Peter Schweyer asked the police chief to encourage the two new officers from out-of-state to become residents of Allentown.
He said it would be wonderful to have more Allentown police officers living in Allentown.

Fitzgerald promised to speak with them about that.

After the meeting, Hendricks said most city police officers do not live in the city.

Hendricks suggested to council that the city develop some kind of incentive plan to encourage more to move into the city.

Council member Cynthia Mota asked the chief if any of the three new officers are female. He said they are not, but added his goal is to get both more former military personnel and more females into the department.

"I know we only hire the best," said Hendricks.

Snow complaint

Also during the council meeting, resident Paulette Kish, complained that east Allentown "is a total mess" following recent snowstorms.

Kish, who lives along E. Chew Street, said streets on the city's West End and South Side are wide and clear of snow "but my street has not been plowed."

"They are not taking care of us who live in the homes on the east side of Allentown. As a taxpayer, I just don't think it's fair that the east side of Allentown is so neglected."

Kish said East Side residents have been patient, but many have called the city "and there's an excuse every time."