In a report released Wednesday, Indiana Borough Police Chief Justin Schawl called 2020 “a year of unyielding adversity for our community and its police department.”
His 33-page summary encompasses a year when “we have faced and navigated acute and long-term traumas, a growing public health crisis and civil unrest prompted by injustice and political divides so deep that on many days they felt insurmountable to overcome.”
Schawl said members of the Indiana Borough Police Department, “needing to be all things to all people,” worked its way “positively and proactively through social media, volunteer opportunities, cruiser parades and letters directly to our community.”
It didn’t do so fully staffed. A personnel chart shows one position unfilled (administrative secretary), two retired (lieutenant, detective) and a patrol officer on extended leave, reducing the active staff from 20 to 19.
Still, the chief said, “as we enter 2021 our focus will be on strategies capable of enhancing community wellness and support, employee wellness, facilitating professional and personal growth opportunities, and increasing our technological abilities.”
Schawl said there were challenges in 2020 unlike what he had faced “serving at every rank since 2001,” as he stressed his motto of “peace, safety, comfort” through a year featuring “a solved murder, responses to multiple other shooting events, a continuing drug epidemic, deaths and abuses, traffic crashes, medical emergency responses, and the other 10,000-plus police activities on record.”
In one of his last official functions as he capped 23 years as mayor of Indiana, George Hood applauded Schawl, “who continues to manage his department budget exceptionally well” and “making changes within the department that enable an increase of morale, pride and dignity under his command.”
Hood’s letter, dated Dec. 31, capped the report Schawl provided to members of borough council and local news media.
Schawl’s report also took note that special events and celebratory weekends didn’t take place in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The chief instead listed how much police service cost for 10 events in 2019, including the St. Patrick’s Day parade ($934.62), the Westsylvania Jazz Festival ($1,028.34), a summer car cruise ($293.50), a Back to School Bash ($266.69), the Italian Festival in August ($248.80), the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival ($695.50), Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s homecoming parade ($2,840.59), the Love of Life 5K in October ($836.28) and November’s parades for Veterans Day ($1,685.79) and the It’s A Wonderful Life festival ($1,777.11).
Still, there were two exceptions in 2020. One was the IUPatty Weekend early in the pandemic where, Schawl said, “our focus shifted from strict enforcement to a preservation of community health and protection of property.” Two people were cited for disorderly conduct that weekend for an event that brings crowds to Indiana but is not authorized by Indiana University of Pennsylvania. An unnatural death also was investigated.
Total costs for IUPatty Weekend were $625.35 for police overtime and $208.22 for food and beverage.
The other was IUP’s homecoming which, “like no year before,” Schawl said, “came and went with little fanfare and limited visitors.”
There were 83 calls for service between Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. and Oct. 11 at 3 p.m., with six arrests on Oct. 9 and three on Oct. 10, and death investigations on both Oct. 10 and 11.
He thanked the community for its trust and vocalized support, including that of borough council’s Public Safety Committee chaired by Donald Lancaster, and “the ever-present personal and professional support” of now-retired Mayor George Hood.
The report listed commendations, recommendations and training.
”Although 2020 saw in-person police trainings universally canceled,” Schawl wrote, “IBPD was able to adapt by adopting a non-traditional online training approach. (It) allowed IBPD officers to take advantage of more training opportunities than in previous years.”
Training included a continued partnership with cultural anthropologist Dr. Abigail Adams, who provided a “continued opportunity for true personal and professional growth making us more responsive and well suited to serve our diverse community.”
Efforts continue “to hire high character employees who accurately represent our diverse community,” Schawl said.
However, an effort that included past advertising at 17 locations, from the borough’s social media accounts, the local NAACP and two IUP entities, to police academies across the commonwealth, was not repeated in 2020 “as our 2019 recruitment effort was sufficient for our need and our COVID-19 environment dictated otherwise.”
Schawl included the annual report of the Indiana Civil Service Commission, chaired by Larry DeChurch with Thomas Crumm an ongoing member.
That panel lost a member with the death of former borough Councilman John Petrosky on Sept. 29 but gained another in December when Dr. Thomas C. Segar, vice president of student affairs at IUP, was chosen to succeed Petrosky.
The commission certified an eligibility list for entry-level training on Jan. 9, then it was extended for an additional six months on Dec. 2.
The report also offered a statistical review, comparing numbers for 2018, 2019 and 2020. For example:
• Medical emergencies rose from 300 in 2018 to 388 in 2019, then slipped to 337 in 2020.
• Incidents of domestic violence dropped from 106 in 2018 to 103 in 2019, then rose to 109 in 2020.
• Assists to other law enforcement agencies was down, from 178 in 2018 to 168 in 2019 to 99 in 2020.
• Worship patrols, a new addition in 2019, rose from 119 in that year to 195 in 2020.
Additionally, there was a new service in 2020: business security checks, which totaled 1,712.
And there were enhanced school patrols, which totaled 1,777 in 2020.
COVID-19 forced IBPD to curtail its crash reduction initiative “to reduce potential officer and citizen exposure to the virus,” Schawl said.
The initiative, which has a goal of reducing traffic accidents by 2 percent in the borough, is to resume “when safe.”
The report also took into account community donations to the police department, including masks, hand sanitizer, T-shirts, meals and protective equipment.