Avalon P.D. flying in new directions

Pennsylvania State Trooper James Pecori has carried everything from emergency workers to equipment as part of his job as a helicopter pilot, but on Monday he took to the skies over the North Boroughs with Avalon’s new police chief, Tom Kokoski, in a “multi-jurisdictional narcotics surveillance” effort in conjunction with the Bellevue and Ohio Township police departments. See more pictures in the Multimedia section at www.thecitizen.us Photo by Connie Rankin for The Citizen

Tom Kokoski has been a police officer for 12 years, but barely a month on the job as chief of the Avalon Police Department and he’s finding himself going in new directions.

Like straight up.

Kokoski took to the skies over the North Boroughs Monday morning, the passenger in a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter piloted by Trooper James Pecori. Their goal was multi-faceted. Working with neighboring chiefs Matt Sentner of Bellevue and Beaver Micklos of Ohio Township, Kokoski wanted to have the area “gridded” so that locations could be easily identified in the case of an emergency situation that would bring in various outside agencies.

He also wanted to get a bird’s eye view -- literally -- of possible narcotics activity in the area.

It’s all part of the new chief’s plan to make Avalon as unattractive to criminals as it could possibly be.

“I want the bad guys to fear coming into Avalon,” he said.

To that end, he is taking the first steps toward creating a police department that does much more than wait for the next call.

“I want a proactive police department,” Kokoski said.

That means putting officers on the street in plainclothes to stop crimes before they happen. And it means creating “street cred” for a department that lets drug dealers know there’s a good chance they’ll end up in handcuffs if they decide to work in Avalon.

It also means creating a department from the inside out that approaches police work in a whole new way.

In the immediate future, Avalon will be hiring one new full-time officer to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of former chief Robert Howie, and the promotion of Kokoski. The hiring of another full-time officer is on the horizon due to the pending retirement of a longtime senior officer in the Avalon department. Within a few months, nearly half of Avalon’s five-man full-time contingent could be rookies.

“A two-man hire in a place this size is huge,” Kokoski noted.

But his future plans don’t stop with the full-time officers. They also extend to the part-time officers, who number between five and 12, depending on how many hours per week an officer is working.

What Kokoski doesn’t want are part-time officers who work a day or two a week, simply filling a shift and a police car. With demands from other jobs, those officers often can’t devote the time or energy Kokoski wants to see in Avalon.

The best part-timer is one who works four days a week, he said. “He’s a part of your department.”

The new chief would like to reduce the number of part-time officers, but have officers who work more hours per week. That, he recognizes, will take time.

“Every guy here six months from now is going to have a vested interest in this place,” he predicted.

He also recognizes that having two officers per shift only puts eyes in so many places at one time. To really stop crime, the community itself has to be involved. And they have to feel comfortable talking to their local police officers.

So Kokoski’s other effort is being directed at making his department more “approachable.” He went to a local business and arranged for the donation of eight bicycles that will be given away at the North Boroughs Independence Day fireworks Friday night at Avalon field.

The chief plans on tapping a variety of resources and contacts he has established during a dozen years as a “street cop.” His enthusiasm and energy levels are high, and he’s expecting that will spread to his department and the community as a whole as his efforts continue.

“This isn’t just a one-trick pony,” he said.

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