The appointment of Joel F. Fitzgerald Sr. as Allentown’s new police chief formally and painlessly was approved by City Council early Wednesday night.
A resolution to appoint Fitzgerald unanimously was passed by council during a special public meeting. That vote was met with applause from people in the audience.
“Ultimately, your success is going to be the success of our city,” council member Peter Schweyer told the new chief.
“I have really taken in Allentown, and I feel like that the arms of Allentown have opened to me as well,” Fitzgerald told council. “It will be a privilege to be part of the community here. I hope to be here a long time.”
Mayor Ed Pawlowski made public his selection of Fitzgerald on Nov. 11, but City Council had to confirm the appointment.
Schweyer said the feedback he’s gotten from both the community and the police department has been “overwhelmingly positive” since the mayor introduced Fitzgerald as his choice for chief.
Fitzgerald said people he’s met in the police department already have made him feel he’s made the right decision about coming to Allentown.
The 42-year-old Philadelphia native has been the police chief in Missouri City, Tex., since April 2009. Before that, he worked in the Philadelphia police department for almost 18 years.
“I was impressed with Joel from the moment I met him,” said Pawlowski. “He is, without a doubt, one of the best candidates we’ve ever had for police chief.”
Pawlowski told council 50 people applied for the job and that Fitzgerald was one of four finalists.
Fitzgerald succeeds Chief Roger MacLean, who retired in September.
“He brings a wealth of experience in implementing community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing I believe is needed here in the city,” said the mayor. “We have been making strides in these areas, but I believe Joel will take us to the next level.”
Fitzgerald’s official first day at work will be Dec. 20 and his annual salary will be $135,000.
Pawlowski told council Fitzgerald will be an “at will” employee, with no contract or severance package, who will get the same benefits as other employees in the police department.
The mayor added the city is not providing housing to the new chief, but probably will pay some of his moving expenses, which he estimated at $5,000 to $7,000.
No one from the public stood to offer any opinions on the selection or to ask questions before the appointment was confirmed, which is unusual for a City Council meeting in Allentown.
Council president Julio Guridy participated in the meeting via phone.
Council member Ray O’Connell, who is recovering from an illness, was absent.
Council members said they already had met with Fitzgerald before the meeting, which is why only two of them had questions for him.
Council member Jeanette Eichenwald took a swipe at the administration, saying she did not have the opportunity to participate in the chief selection process, even though she chairs council’s public safety committee.
Pawlowski reviewed Fitzgerald’s impressive resume, including the many honors he has received.
He began his police career as a uniformed patrolman in Philadelphia in 1992. He was promoted to sergeant in 1998. He later became commander/lieutenant of a narcotics strike force in Philadelphia, which dismantled drug trafficking organizations throughout the city by targeting and prosecuting upper level narcotics distribution and violent felons, reported Pawlowski.
The mayor said Fitzgerald will be Allentown’s first police chief with a doctorate degree. He holds a PhD. in business administration from Northcentral University in Prescott, Ariz.
When Schweyer addressed Fitzgerald as “Dr.” council member Jeff Glazier joked that he should be referred to as “Dr. Chief.”
Fitzgerald also holds a masters degree in business administration-executive management from Eastern University in St.
Davids, Delaware County, and a bachelors degree in sociology from Villanova University in Villanova, Delaware County. And he is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.
Eichenwald asked the new chief how he was able to earn all those degrees while working as a police officer.
Fitzgerald said he’s a family man and doing all that was as hard on his family as it was on him as a working person. “It requires a lot of personal sacrifice,” he said. “I was able to balance my work performance with my academic performance. It was a challenge.”
Fitzgerald’s wife is a detective in the Stafford, Tex., police department. Stafford is next to Missouri City. Both towns are suburbs of Houston. The couple has three children, including a 21-year-old son who also plans a career in law enforcement.
Eichenwald, who also is a Philadelphia native, asked Fitzgerald about his relationship with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, one of his references.
“We actually were altar boys together,” said Fitzgerald. “He’s a friend of mine. We grew up in the same neighborhood.”
When Guridy asked Fitzgerald about the prospects of him staying in Allentown for a long time, the chief indicated he had been pursuing other job opportunities, but withdrew from them to proceed with the Allentown selection process. “This is where I want to be. I’ll be here as long as you’ll have me.”
Missouri City has been ranked as one of the top 100 Safest Cities in America by Congressional Quarterly Magazine.
Guridy said Missouri City has not had a murder since 2010. He said it is a more affluent community than Allentown, with a median household income is about $84,000, compared to around $35,000 here.
He asked how Fitzgerald will reduce crime in Allentown.
As a first step, Fitzgerald said he will benefit from meeting more people in the city, including community organizations and church groups.
“Are we going to every community meeting? Are we getting the input and communication level we need?’ asked the chief. “We have to listen better. We really want the heads of different organizations around the city to be proactive and we have to be engaged with those persons to make a better Allentown.”
Pawlowski told council that Missouri City has more than 85,000 residents. Allentown has about 119,000. He said that city’s police department has 121 full-time officers and civilian employees, which is about the same number as Allentown.
Fitzgerald said in Missouri City, the police department and citizens take a shared approach to crime prevention. “We educate the community on things to look out for, especially in regard to violent crime, and ways to mitigate crime.”
He said Missouri City residents have been receptive to that approach and “we have many community groups that are very active in the crime prevention effort. We’ve been able to leverage our relationship with the community to have a positive effect on crime.
“Many times murder and violent crimes are things we can’t prevent.
Some of them have to do with relationships. There’s a lot of domestic violence in homes that we’re not able to monitor.” But he added police can help by becoming more active and directing people who need help to social services.
As chief in Missouri City, Fitzgerald revamped the disciplinary, recruiting and promotional testing, said Pawlowski. He also acquired grants to increase staffing and improve department technology. And he implemented strategies to facilitate crime prevention analysis and officer deployment.