In our book “The Story of Kennett” Joan Holliday and I discovered that one of the great things that made Kennett such a great place to grow-up and grow-old was how every member of the community felt safe. A big part of that accomplishment seemed to be due to our strong policing and past Chief of Police Albert McCarthy who developed a community policing culture making it our little sanctuary. Here is what came from our interview of Chief McCarthy:
“Back in those days, to get to Baltimore from Philadelphia, you would drive right through the center of Kennett Square. Both my parents thought it was a great place to raise children. It was the kind of community where your kids left the house in the morning, met friends at the playground, went home for lunch and home for dinner. Every mother watched out for every child. Like most communities, society started to change.
The playground (recreational center) was torn down to make room for a new school. Economic conditions required both parents to work. We were in the beginnings of the Vietnam War. Kids were experimenting with drugs. I became a volunteer fireman with the Kennett Fire Company. While laid off during the winter of 1971, Fire Chief Ralph Hunter asked me if I would work as a Chester County police radio dispatcher.
They were so short-handed there were few days off, and the job paid so little that no one would take it. I tried it and was hooked - something about the challenge of the job. I enjoyed the officers in the field. I served as a Kennett Square police officer from January 1973 until 2007.
After being sworn in, I met with the mayor and town council and they proposed that if I enrolled in a training class, the township would pay my salary. So I was the first Kennett Square police officer to complete training at the PA State Police Academy, but I was not the last. The Borough council must have believed the training provided valuable instruction on how to deal with problems facing the community, because soon the entire department completed the training. Kennett Square was one of the first fully trained police departments in Chester County.
I became Chief of the Kennett Square Police Department in 1988 and retired in 2007. I then founded the Kennett Township Police Department in 2007 and served as its chief until retiring in May 2015. Kennett Square does seem to employ a large number of officers for its size; the most at one time was 15, including 6 part-timers. The borough presently has 11 full-time and 4 part-time officers. The township has 4 full-time and 2 part-time officers. It’s a safe place to live now.
A group of residents and businessmen wanted to revitalize the town. I was sent to a seminar on this where I learned people want three things from their community: 1. They want to feel secure 2. They want to have pride in their community 3. They want economic development. I took this information to the mayor, the council and the businessmen interested in revitalizing the town and translated it into three things: 1. For people to feel safe they need police. The police department needed to be re-evaluated. 2. To have pride in the community there needed to be effective code enforcement – not just a building inspector that issues building permits. 3. You can’t get to #3 if you don’t have #1 and #2. Using this information, Marshall Newton and other churches aided in conducting a communitywide survey, which produced the YMCA and Nixon Park. Council developed the parking garage. All of this brought the first Genesis building and later the second Broad Street building.
The police presence was amped up in the community with the goal of building relationships with the residents. Police on foot patrol were told to ask, “What can we do for you?” The police department adopted a new slogan, “Caring for Our Community”. The police department and the Kennett school district collaborated on handling the students’ behavior. For any misdemeanor committed on school property, the police were called in but the school administration was able to meet with the parents and discuss the offense. In most cases, depending on the severity of the crime, the discipline was handled by the schools. Within a short amount of time, student assaults and bullying greatly declined. Later, when students became impressed with gangs and gang action, the school administrators and police educated themselves together and the school adopted policies on using gang signs or wearing gang colors. I credit Dr. Larry Bosley with his stance – a child can’t get an education if he/she has to worry about a fight breaking out in front of them.
When I think back over the years of my tenure in the police department, I realize that my greatest achievement is tied in with my interaction and collaboration with the committed groups focused on making the Kennett area better. These groups include Study Buddies for the kids who needed tutoring, CTC, Bridging the Community, After-The-Bell, The Garage, DARE, the church, youth groups, the Spanish Center, and the YMCA. While involved in these groups, the youth were kept busy and learned to respect each other regardless of race, color, or creed. Juvenile crime was nearly eliminated. We need to praise the good work that is being done. We need to encourage them (the kids) to get involved. Tell them always to be willing to aid anyone – you will never know when you may be that person that needs someone else’s help. Policing a borough is a community operation!”
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