State College Police Chief Tom King stepped into a statewide leadership role with his eyes on the future of law enforcement and with some old friends at his side.
King recently began a one-year term as president of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. He’ll hold the office through July 2014, and then spend a year as chairman of the organization’s board of directors.
He is the first Centre County chief to head the state association.
King was sworn into office by Magisterial District Judge Tom Jordan, who is based in Centre Hall. The master of ceremonies at the installation banquet in Camp Hill was Duquesne University Police Chief Tom Hart.
King, Jordan and Hart were detectives together with the State College police department in the 1980s.
“I remember it as Tom, Tom and Tom in the detectives group,” King said. “When I had to decide who I wanted to have swear me in, it was an easy decision.”
Jordan said he has known King since 1981. They were officers together for a dozen years, until King was named chief in State College.
King’s swearing-in also was attended by his wife, Kelley, their children, Brad and Kayla, other family members and several borough representatives including another Tom — State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine.
“My wife and I joined Tom (King) and his wife, and a lot of folks from State College went down,” Jordan said.
“It was a real nice event.”
Jordan was on the State College police force for 24 years before his election to a district judge seat 11 years ago.
“It was a privilege for me to do something special with my friend and comrade and old boss,” Jordan said.
“We go back a long way.”
The Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association has more than 1,200 members, including department chiefs, superintendents and commissioners at all levels, as well as top officers with federal, state and private agencies.
The chiefs association has weighed in on legislative issues such as the privatization of liquor sales; pension reform; and transportation improvements, which would be funded through increased fines for driving infractions.
King hopes his organization can help make radar enforcement a tool that is available to local police departments.
“We’ve been working on that literally for decades,” he said, “but that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.”
King said he has several goals related to improving law enforcement.
He is pushing to have more police departments complete the accreditation program offered through the chiefs association. The State College department was accredited in 2008.
Statewide, there are 1,100 police departments but only about 100 are accredited, King said.
“Accreditation shows that you’re meeting professional standards,” King said.
The process would involve more than 130 criteria in areas such as hiring and background checks, training, firearms and driving during emergency situations, King said.
“There’s a nexus between accredited departments and better service to the public,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, deliver better service and provide increased protection for officers.”
He said: “Instead of having 100 departments accredited, maybe in four or five years we can have 700 or 800 accredited.”
Likewise, King hopes to expand the certification of police chiefs. The process would include providing an orientation program that addresses many situations new chiefs will face.
“I’ve learned a lot over my 20 years as chief,” King said. “Last year, we had 60 new police chiefs in Pennsylvania, and they didn’t really have anywhere to turn for help and support.”
He also hopes to broaden the use of online training programs.
“Instead of taking officers off the street, you can schedule training around staffing needs,” he said.
King said the presidency means “a fair amount of work. Luckily, a lot of it can be done from right here or from my home at night.
“I’m enjoying it. It’s busy, but I asked for it. I’m hopeful that after my year as president that we’ve accomplished some things.”
Being elected to the top office in the state already accomplished something meaningful: reuniting King with his old buddies from the State College force.
“Time passes very quickly,” Jordan said. “It’s like you snap your fingers and it’s gone.”
Chip Minemyer is the executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4640. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.