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27-year veteran cites school safety as ‘top priority’
New McKeesport police Chief Mark Steele receives his badge from former chief Adam Alfer at October’s council meeting. (Tube City Almanac photo)
School safety and staying visible in the community are two priorities for McKeesport’s new police chief.
Mark Steele, a 27-year veteran of the department, was sworn into office by Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi in October. He replaced retired Chief Adam Alfer, who took a job with South Allegheny School District.
“I don’t want to be an ‘office chief,’” Steele said. “I want to be on the road and learn first-hand what’s going on in the city.
“You never know where I’m going to show up,” he said. “That’s the only way to know what’s going on.”
A McKeesport Area High School graduate, Steele, who most recently served as Alfer’s assistant police chief, came up through the ranks, joining the force — along with Alfer and another former assistant chief, Christopher “Chip” Olinsky — in 1996 under a program piloted by then-Mayor Joe Bendel to put new graduates through the police academy.
From working in patrol, Steele served on the city’s narcotics squad as a sergeant and a lieutenant. “I have an advantage from having been born and raised here,” he said. “I probably know 80 percent of the people in the city who I encounter.”
Steele was named assistant chief in 2020. He was part of the leadership team that steered the department through the on-duty death in February of Officer Sean Sluganski and the wounding of his partner, Officer Chuck Thomas, as they responded to a domestic dispute in Grandview. A city man is charged with homicide in Sluganski’s slaying and is awaiting trial.
“When you go through a time like that, it’s extremely important that you have good leadership,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said last month. “Fortunately, we had a chief like Adam Alfer and an assistant chief like Mark Steele. It’s through their efforts, I believe, that our officers have persevered through everything and are still working. I can’t thank them enough.”
Given Steele’s record, Cherepko said, was natural to elevate him to the chief’s position: “He’s truly going to put the best interest of the community at heart.”
Steele said the McKeesport department has been fortunate to have a close working relationship with surrounding departments, as well as the Allegheny County police and district attorney, and that he looks forward to maintaining those ties. Steele said he also wants to be a regular visitor to McKeesport’s schools, as well as the private schools, including Propel McKeesport and Serra Catholic High School.
“My number-one concern is our schools,” Steele said.
No immediate changes are planned, Steele said, although all McKeesport police officers are being issued body cams. The department has 44 full-time officers and the cameras needed to be paid for with grant funding, he said. Video equipment will be added to all patrol cars when funding permits, Steele said.
Away from the office, Steele maintains a hunting cabin, where he enjoys camping and fishing — anything but being behind a desk.
“I’m working with a great group of men and women downstairs,” he said. “I’m excited and honored to be there, side-by-side with them.”
Originally published November 06, 2023.