SALISBURY TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT
When Salisbury Township Police Chief Allen W. Stiles started with the department in 1994, he wanted to know the 10 full-time and 11 part-time officers and staff.
“The first thing I did was work every shift and ride with every officer,” Stiles said. Officers thought that was great.
“I asked two questions: What’s wrong with this police department and what do you want to see this police department become? They had a lot of ideas.”
Stiles said the officers repeatedly said they didn’t like the police patch on the uniforms — it was too plain. Stiles asked the officers for ideas.
“They said they didn’t like the township seal so I asked my son-in-law to create a design of a new seal to incorporate into the new patch. I had a sample made and the officers, commissioners and township manager liked it and adopted the new seal,” Stiles said.
At the time of his arrival, there was labor strife between the township and the officers association due to a lawsuit regarding civil service procedures/testing for full-time and part-time officers.
“It took a toll on operations,” Stiles said.
“My goal was to get the officers’ mindsets changed; we weren’t here to battle the township. I wanted them to work together and cooperate.”
Stiles said in 1994 the vehicles, building, equipment and training were terrible.
“I was very blessed with intelligent officers who wanted a great police department. They embraced and helped with the plans for our police department,” Stiles said. The officers began to see the department as the officers’ police department.
Stiles credits Detective Rich Metzler, the Le-Hampton Lodge Fraternal Order of Police in Northampton, Officer Mark Deery and Officer Bill Updegrove who were instrumental in helping him turn the department around.
“They were great people, great cops,” Stiles said.
Stiles started sending the officers for additional training which got them enthused.
“Officers would come back from training with great ideas. I said, ‘Run with it — you’re in charge.’”
In the meantime, the chief started writing grants for equipment, training, vehicles, overtime for enforcement and whatever the department needed. To this date, Stiles has brought in close to $1,500,000 in grant money for the department.
In the early years, Stiles said he faced adversity and negativity from the board of commissioners. He said some were very supportive and helped him change the department. “I had to do a lot of convincing,” Stiles said. “I also received a great deal of assistance and support from many commissioners (past and present) and our current manager Cathy Bonaskiewich.”
During his time at the department, Stiles changed the look of the police vehicles using the patch and stripes. He wanted to show the residents the police were part of the community, that they were credible. “We wanted people to see us and know where we were,” he said.
Stiles also changed the officers’ uniforms from gray to black shirts. The officers said they didn’t like the gray shirts. Salisbury Township Police Department is the only department with black uniforms.
Stiles also began a community block watch program at The Hills of Devonshire. Residents Paul and Nancy Holler and Jim Brown were integral in getting this started. Brown helped before he was elected as a township commissioner. On the eastern side, Shirley Young started the community watch program along with Bob and Sue Martucci, before Bob was a township commissioner.
The chief also realized that partnering with Lehigh Valley Health Network, Cedar Crest Professional Park, South Mall and the Salisbury Township School District was in the best interest of the Salisbury Township Police Department and the community.
“That has led us to so many good things,” Stiles said.
There were some tragedies that came with the good.
On Feb. 26, 1995, Nelson “Ben” Birdwell III and Bryan, 17 and David Freeman, 16, killed their parents, Brenda and Dennis Freeman, and their 11-year-old brother, Erik Freeman in Salisbury Township. Bryan and David attended Salisbury High School. They were found three days later in Michigan.
“When this happened, the superintendent contacted me saying parents were calling and students were worried. I assigned a police officer to the school to patrol and had a marked police car on the premises,” Stiles said.
Both brothers and their cousin were given life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Due to the Freeman murders, and a training Stiles had attended, the chief developed a special operations group and sent his staff to active shooter training, one of the first departments to have this training.
“This was a growing problem and I was worried something was going to happen in our area. I wanted to be ready to handle any situation.”
Stiles said the Freeman brothers’ activity eventually led to the first school resource officer.
Stiles said everything started getting better in the police department — arrest statistics went up and the crime rate went down. “The community was participating with us and we were able to provide more programs,” Stiles said.
In the late 1990s through 2011, the police department participated in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program working with middle school students to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs and violent behavior.
When the Eastern Salisbury Fire Department disbanded its ambulance corps, the police department stepped up with its Quick Response Service, a special vehicle to provide medical assistance until an ambulance can respond. Police personnel received training for that vehicle and service to the community.
“For years, the fire companies were asking for fire inspections,” Stiles said. The township manager tasked the police department with creating a fire inspection program, making sure the buildings in the township were inspected for fire hazards, placing Knox boxes on the doors for emergency entry by firefighters and keeping the community safe.
Stiles is very proud of the training his department has received.
“Three years ago, we had an incident where a teenage girl living in a group home in Salisbury had an incident with staff members. The girl was frightened at the sight of police officers and the officers were not trained on how to work with residents having special needs,” Stiles said.
Stiles invited the girl’s mother into the department to advise the chief on what he needed to do to serve those in the community with special needs. She referred him to the mental health services department in Lehigh County and counselor Drew Taylor trained the police department staff so the officers could be responsive to all residents. “Now all police departments in Lehigh County receive this training,” Stiles said.
Other accomplishments for the police department while on Stiles’ watch include the development of 5- and 10-year strategic plans for the department, hiring of additional officers, promotion of officers to the rank of sergeant, establishment of a chain of command and supervisor on-call system, introduction of desktop computers and police specific software records management system, mobile data terminals with vehicle locator system, car cameras, use of 4-wheel drive SUVs, use of 4-wheel drive pickup trucks, advanced first aid kits with oxygen and AED in every police vehicle, less-lethal weapons and related training, active shooter drills in schools, houses of worship, businesses and LVHN, leadership training for all supervisors, two school resource officers, vehicle mounted mobile license plate reader systems, fixed location license plate reader systems and a police armed hazmat response group.
Stiles is also proud of the community outreach including community policing, Coffee with a Cop, Cops ‘n’ Kids reading program, National Night Out, citizen ride-along program and the welcoming of police interns to the department.
“A lot of credit should go to our three sergeants – Kevin Soberick, Ron Patten and Don Sabo who served as my management team and helped us make the department what it is today,” Stiles said.
Looking forward, the department is working with a law firm, courtesy of a grant, on a complete revision of all policies and procedures and working toward accreditation for the department, including the use of body cameras.
“We want to make sure we are doing the right thing before implementing the program,” Stiles said.
Stiles is retiring and his last day with the department will be July 12.
In a memo to his 21 full-time and two part-time officers, he told them how proud he was of them.
“We have all worked together to make this department the best that it can be. Everything has changed so much since I became your chief in 1994. While we haven’t accomplished everything we wanted, we have come a long way. I hope that I have provided you with the necessary training, experience, advice and equipment to make your jobs easier and safer.
“Please continue to seek excellence in all things. Continue to work together for the common good and remember to support each other as you strive for a more professional department. Protect each other and ‘our’ department. Make the right decisions for the right reasons every day so that your loved ones will always be proud of you.
“I pray for your safety, continued good health and successful careers. God bless you all.”
Stiles said he is looking forward to the next chapter of his life, planning some consulting and volunteering work.
“And I will have a lot of fun with my 2015 Mustang GT Premium with lots of modifications.”