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Chief's Corner

John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police

patch

Nov 12

The Dog Blog: How Canines Help Police and Veterans

Posted on November 12, 2018 at 10:22 AM by Andrea Iglar

As most of you know, in December 2017 we added a new officer to our South Fayette family: Ellie Faye, the bloodhound of the South Fayette Township Police Department.

The dog has been very active so far, having been certified through the National Houndsmen Association and having endured the rigorous training regimen required to become nationally licensed. Over the past year, Ellie and her handler, Sgt. Mike Wesolek, have been called upon for assistance 14 times to help find runaway juveniles, people with special needs, lost persons and wanted suspects. The big, floppy bloodhound also has enjoyed meeting—and happily slobbering upon—many children and adults at community events.

Within the police department, Ellie has often lifted our spirits as well as those of residents and visitors. Dogs in general have been known to have a tremendous positive effect on people; as the adage goes, they are “man’s best friend.” That’s why dogs around the country have been well suited to assist veterans and police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury—effectively saving the lives of both the veteran and dog.

Pennsylvania in particular has a large per capita population of post-9/11 veterans, and several K-9 programs have assisted veterans and law enforcement officers with the effects of PTSD. The Florida-based charitable organization “K-9s for Warriors,” accredited by the Better Business Bureau, trains service dogs to perform tasks that help quiet the traumatic disabilities faced by some veterans and law enforcement officers. These dogs learn to help with anxiety, depression, isolation and nightmares.

Statistics from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, Harvard University, Purdue University and Indiana University show that on average, veterans consume up to 14 medications a day to treat PTSD or traumatic brain injury, and police officers are at the top of the list for suicides and alcoholism. This makes me stop and think, “Are we doing enough to assist with these disabilities?”

As a police chief who has the upmost respect and gratitude for the men and women who have served our country in the military, I believe the “K-9s for Warriors” program has greatly assisted with these challenges. The program recently conducted a study with 141 participants, half with a service dog and half without. The study found that depression, PTSD symptoms and anxiety levels were significantly lower among the half who were provided with service dogs.

I am pleased that in our community, Ellie can provide comfort to our officers and joy to our community members.

Professionally,
John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police
South Fayette Township
Sep 24

Speeding issues challenge both the police and community

Posted on September 24, 2018 at 2:26 PM by Andrea Iglar

The South Fayette Township Police Department receives many calls and complaints throughout the year about speeding issues, which we try to address as much as possible as time and staffing permits.
I appreciate that speeding is an important public safety issue, but there are a few factors that people should try to understand about speeding enforcement.

Our officers are assigned to be in certain problem areas when they are out patrolling our 21 square miles, which include 329 streets and roadways. We prioritize the areas that we monitor for speeding based on traffic data collected from traffic accidents, radar speed signs and traffic volume. Data collected from our radar speed signs is used to calculate the compliance rate for speed. If the compliance rate is 90 percent or higher, there is not a speeding problem based on statistics.

South Fayette has several neighborhoods with only one entrance and one exit, so it is generally the residents who live there who are speeding. I understand this isn’t always the case, but it usually is in these types of neighborhoods.

Another factor is that people generally don’t speed when they see a police car sitting in or patrolling the area. Drivers see a police car and slow down, or a radar speed sign in the area causes them to slow down. After the police leave the area, drivers speed again.

In Pennsylvania, state law prohibits communities from installing stop signs for speed control and does not allow local municipalities to use radar for enforcement.

Our department receives requests from some neighborhoods for speed bumps to assist in slowing down traffic. Many people like speed bumps—but just not in front of their house. Some homeowners don’t like the accompanying signs that are required to be placed in their yard. Fire departments explain that speed bumps may slow down their response time, and township Public Works finds that they interfere with snow plowing. Speed bumps can also create liability issues for the township if it is determined that a speed bump causes an accident or leads to property damage. Some communities have speed bumps, but most don’t. I have spoken with several communities, and most are against speed bumps for the above reasons.

While speeding is an important safety issue, police must balance speeding enforcement with many other public safety issues. In 2017, our officers issued 637 traffic citations and stopped approximately 1,200 vehicles—in addition to answering approximately 5,500 calls for service including, but not limited to, domestic disturbances, deaths, thefts, burglaries and disorderly conduct.

We also receive state and federal grants for annual traffic safety programs such as Buckle Up PA, Click It or Ticket, an aggressive driving awareness campaign, the DUI Task Force and child safety seat inspections. Police also hosted a stationary DUI checkpoint on Route 50 in August.

Please call 9-1-1 if you identify a specific speeding violator. Police rely on citizens obtaining the type and color of a speeding car, and possibly a license plate, if police are not present. The South Fayette Police Department will continue to do its best to enforce all traffic violations throughout the community.

Professionally,

John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police
South Fayette Township
Oct 05

Police committed to understanding community needs

Posted on October 5, 2017 at 3:41 PM by Andrea Iglar

Policing in America in the 21st century can be challenging for both police officers and citizens alike. In South Fayette Township, residents come from a multitude of backgrounds, environments and cultures that we as law enforcement officers must be aware of and sensitive to. Similarly, it is helpful for the public to be aware of what influences police officers.

Most police departments are understaffed and overworked, with officers running from call to call and at times becoming bogged down in endless mountains of paperwork. At times, officers can feel overwhelmed and underappreciated, and because of this just want to “get the job done” before moving on to the next task. Under such conditions, officers can become unintentionally insensitive to the people we serve.

Furthermore, police training generally involves communicating with short, abrupt commands to direct people, and officers nationwide base the way they interact with the public on laws, statutes and ordinances. While this type of training helps officers fulfill their primary function to protect and serve, officers often tend to miss social cues or take into account differences in communication styles, backgrounds and experiences that influence individual citizens.

However, in today’s world, citizens expect officers to be less routine and more sensitive to the needs of the public. That is one reason I believe in community immersion, which means having our officers attend community meetings, conduct bike patrols throughout our neighborhoods and trails, and communicate with our business owners and residents. This community-oriented approach has been adopted by many larger police departments, including the City of Pittsburgh.

The South Fayette Township Police Department strives to be more than just a face in a patrol car. We provide programs to enhance communication with our community, such as Coffee with the Chief, Project Teddy Bear, Project Lifesaver, the School Resource Officer, Child Car Seat Installation Inspections, and the Drug Take-Back Box, to name a few. (Find a full list at www.southfayettepa.com/policeprograms.) These initiatives have proven to be effective across the United States in breaking down barriers between the police and the community.

As always, we continue to strive to better serve and protect South Fayette Township. Thank you for your continued support.

Professionally,
John R. Phoennik
Chief of Police