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New Police Initiatives Include School, Park Details

Mayor, chief say enhanced community policing is a focus in 2024

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
April 01, 2024
Posted in: Crime and Police News, McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, at right with police Chief Mark Steele, swears in new police officers (from left) Dale McGlaughlin, Seth Taylor and Jodi Leitzell at the March council meeting. (Tube City Almanac photo)

McKeesport police have created a floating school detail that is checking in with each of the city’s public, parochial and private schools on a weekly basis, Chief Mark Steele said recently.

In addition, new officers, new equipment and new tactics are being developed in an effort to improve community relations and bolster public safety, he said.

The two-person school detail is visiting buildings at least three days each week and has the flexibility to go where they can provide the most help, Steele said. “They can go to Twin Rivers, Founders Hall, South Hall, the high school, or Propel or Serra Catholic,” he said. “It’s up to them — whatever they feel is necessary.”

Steele said he met with principals of each of the schools recently to assess their needs and gauge whether they would appreciate an increased police presence. The principals welcomed the idea, he said.

“We’re looking to build relationships with the schools,” McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko said. “I commend Chief Steele on his efforts, because in this day and age we know how important it is to the community to build relationships.”

Last month, Cherepko swore in three new police officers to fill vacancies created by retirements and by personnel leaving for other departments. Joining the McKeesport department were Jodi Leitzell from Clairton, Seth Taylor from Wilkinsburg and Dale McGlaughlin from Port Vue.

Steele said Leitzell and Taylor will be full-time officers while McLaughlin will work part-time.

Many recent hires have been new graduates of the police academy, Cherepko noted, and although those officers are doing “an incredible job,” the three newest hires “come with experience, which is an incredible asset to bring. It means there’s a lot less training to be done.”

Police agencies across Pennsylvania are reporting a shortage of qualified applicants for positions. Philadelphia’s 6,000-member department reporting at least 800 openings, according to the Associated Press, while Pittsburgh’s 850-member department has 100 vacancies, WESA-FM radio recently reported.

“In this day and age, it is not easy to get police officers let alone good ones,” Cherepko said. “We’ve been very fortunate over the last couple of months.”

Steele, who became police chief in October, said that in addition to the personnel moves, other new initiatives are underway this year.

The department is adding the capabilities of a tracking dog to help find missing children and senior citizens, Steele said. The new canine officer, a bloodhound, is currently being trained.

Police Lt. Nick Matthews, who was previously partnered with K-9 officer Farkle, will work with the bloodhound, Steele said.

Four McKeesport police officers also are being trained to pilot a flying drone to add in search and rescue missions, he said. “I want to make sure we have someone on every shift to help locate, for instance, lost children, dangerous persons, or elderly patients with dementia,” Steele said.

In addition, a new police substation will be opening in Renziehausen Park, in an unused building near Jacob Woll Pavilion that was recently renovated by public works personnel.

Two officers also will be detailed to patrol Renzie on foot during softball and baseball games, Steele said.

“We are committed to having our officers interact with youth to build those relationships,” Cherepko said.

Originally published April 01, 2024.

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