Running the Doylestown Borough Police Department since 1995, Chief James Donnelly recently took on an additional role as Chief of Police for neighboring borough, New Britain. With both of these Bucks County departments sharing responsibility for protecting the Delaware Valley College campus and with overlap in the communities they serve, the two agencies are joining forces to become a regional police department by early 2014.
Streamlining the operations of the two borough police departments will definitely save some money, but the Chief sees the real benefit being in new professional development opportunities for the New Britain officers. In the past, these officers have received only mandatory training because New Britain is such a small department. By combining the two forces, all officers will have access to additional training to help them further develop their careers in public safety.
Metro Alert: What are some of the challenges of running a police department?
Chief Donnelly: Coordination among the surrounding departments is key. As a small department, we (Doylestown Borough PD) are lucky to have good partners in the community, but communicating and collaborating is still a challenge. We have 23 liquor licenses in the 2.2 square miles and we are also a tourist location, leading to weekends during which a variety of incidences occur. We also have a high school, a middle school and three elementary schools, as well as a hospital right outside the borough, and it is essential that we tightly coordinate our efforts with all these entities.
Metro Alert: How have you overcome the challenges?
Chief Donnelly: We focus on being responsive to the community. Our Metro Technology Visual Alert Records Management Systems, being used by both departments, are essential to help us be responsive. Once we regionalize, we will be able to move to one system. All of our officers will have access to the same information, be able to review reports and see what’s happening across the department, which is key to opening up the communications.
We began using Visual Alert in 2000. We have it in our cars, which enables our officers to spend more time on the street. For example, a number of years ago, we had 400 kids that hung out in the middle of town. It was disrupting businesses and causing problems. We set up a program that if we instructed an individual to leave or they violated an ordinance, we would send a letter to their parents as their first warning. The second instance would result in a citation. The challenge was the time it took to find out whether we’d had contact with the person before. Now, with Visual Alert, the officers have all the information in their cars, allowing them to quickly determine if there has been previous contact and take appropriate action.
The mobile access also allows us to better serve our schools, especially in the wake of recent tragedies. During the officers’ free time when they are writing their reports instead of answering calls, they sit at a school and write their reports – providing a police presence at the schools. When we regionalize, we plan to use the Visual Alert Geographic Information System for crime and crash mapping, to help us better visualize what is going on in the borough, the different problem areas, and identify where we should be. Last year, for example, we had a series of 25 burglaries – and were successful in arresting the person and clearing the burglaries – but because we didn’t have a mapping system, not all the officers were aware that so many burglaries occurred in a particular area. This will help us be more responsive.
The reporting in Visual Alert is really good and helps us keep others in the community informed. At council meetings, for example, someone may want to know how many incidences have occurred at a certain bar. We are able to easily generate reports with the type of incident, where it occurred, when it occurred, etc. This is valuable.
Metro Alert: How has being a police officer changed since you began?
Chief Donnelly: I’ve been an officer for 46 years. I became a police officer because of the job security it offered. My father was in the trucking business and experienced many layoffs throughout his career. I was looking for a career with more job security.
When I came on we didn’t have computers or any type of technology. It has changed quite a bit. I’d like to see where it is in another 20 years. However, I think the biggest change was the move to community policing in the mid-1980s. It changed how we thought of ourselves and how the public thought of us. I was fortunate enough to be a district commander in Philadelphia at the time and watching how we dealt with the community changed significantly from the mid-80s on. It made the job much better.
Metro Alert: What do you like most about your job?
Chief Donnelly: Teaching young officers how to be police officers and helping them to find their way to where they want to be as an officer. That’s what I get the most joy out of.
Metro Alert: What do you do in your spare time?
Chief Donnelly: I spend time at my place down the shore and enjoy reading and spending time with my wife, two kids and six grandkids.