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New police chief shares goals, concerns for West Grove Borough

12/23/2014 05:17PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

It is just about one month into his new position as the West Grove Borough Police Chief, and Michael King is literally performing three tasks at once.

He's not only getting acclimated to his new office – one occupied by former Police Chief Earl Galloway for the past 26 years – he's meeting with law enforcement leaders in Chester County, as well as forming the templates and goals that will guide his department for the future. With 25 years as an officer for the State Police and nearly two years at the New Garden Township Police Department, King brings not only experience but a sense of vision to his new position. Recently, he took a moment from his busy schedule to talk with the Chester County Press about the department under former Chief Galloway, the concept of a regional police department, and other issues of vital concern to West Grove.

CCP: What attracted you to this position?

King: Having come from an agency the size of the State Police and then most recently a smaller agency in New Garden, I initially felt that this might be too small an operation for me. Then, one day as I was driving through West Grove Borough, I had a change of heart. I recognized it as a close-knit community, where I could take what I've learned and experienced with the State Police and what I learned about community policing at New Garden and make it work in this environment. I thought about being in a position of leadership, in a situation where I could construct a very personal relationship between the police and the community. I felt like I could bring the experience I had and apply that to this situation, in hopes of modernizing the department's approach to law enforcement.

CCP: You're replacing former police Chief Earl Galloway, who served in the position for 26 years. How do you enhance what Chief Galloway has already done?

King: I do that by moving the program forward and affecting positive change within the department. I haven't had the opportunity to get a handle on the entire operation yet, but that's going to take months. Over time, policies and procedures may need to be modified and there are advancements in technology and equipment that need to be added to enhance our operation. However, I want to give credit where credit is due. It was rare to drive through West Grove without seeing Chief Galloway on the street. He and the efforts of the people who worked under him played a large part in making this a very desirable place to live. You can't quantify the deterrent effect that being out and visible patrolling may have had on keeping crime in this area moving in another direction. He deserves the gratitude of the community for his efforts over the years, and all I'm trying to do is expand upon what he brought to the department. I will take the best practices of what I learned in my experiences with the State Police and with New Garden, as well as my association with other chiefs and administrators, and try to find a template that fits our mission here.

CCP: Yes, but it's one thing to put these ideas into theory, and it's an entirely another thing to implement these ideas.

King: In my opinion, it's about being out there and visible. It's about getting out of our police vehicles, interacting with the community, and working with area youth. It's about having a presence in neighborhood parks, at the Avon Grove Wildcat games, and at the Community Youth Garage in West Grove. It comes through such practices as foot patrols and being accessible through phone, e-mail, eventually through social media. Engaging people goes a long way towards knocking down the walls that often separate a community from its police agency.

CCP: The face of southern Chester County continues to be a wonderful blend of various ethnicities and communities, and yet this is occurring at the time a simmering distrust exists between law enforcement and many of the communities they serve. The results, most readily seen in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., have turned this distrust into a powder keg of controversy that doesn't show any signs of being rectified. How do you address this national concern, locally?

King: Having worked as a police officer for nearly 27 years, I have come to know West Grove for its great diversity of ethnicity. However, it's always been a challenge to communicate. The language barrier is a huge problem for law enforcement in this area. We're thankful to have some Spanish-speaking officers in the region, but in order to bridge that gap, we have to be accessible to them in a way they can understand, so that they trust the police. Much of it is done through the great work of the social service agencies in the county, but our goal is to get them to feel comfortable enough and trust us enough to report things that they otherwise wouldn't. It comes down to educating people and getting them to be compliant with our laws, and helping them get the legal assistance and support they need.

CCP: Policing in this community is not done in a box. It's proven to be achieved through effective collaboration. You have spent nearly 27 years in law enforcement – a year-and-a-half with the New Garden Police and 25 years with the State Police in Avondale. Give us examples of where you have seen that sense of collaboration between police units.

King: What makes us effective is our ability to share information in a timely manner. The State Police does an excellent job of disseminating information state wide to law enforcement personnel, but locally, it's the administrators, the detectives and the officers on the street that are sharing information through phone calls, e-mails, information sharing networks, and by attending crime meetings. The crime in this area does traverse community lines, so what makes us effective is our ability to provide assistance and resources so that small agencies that don't have a lot of manpower or technology can lean on agencies that do.

CCP: There is currently a study being done to explore the feasibility of forming a regional police department in southern Chester County that has, for the moment, the cooperation of four municipalities, including the London Grove Township. If this is enacted, where do you see the West Grove Police Department fitting into the matrix of this larger operation?

King: This isn't the first time the concept has been explored in southern Chester County, but I don't know that it's ever been explored to this degree, with this much traction. I look at this as an exciting time, because it's a win-win for everybody involved. Just having these discussions and exploring different ways to improve service and efficiency is productive. If for some reason it's determined that this isn't the time for it, then at least we've laid the groundwork for it to be discussed in the future. If it's decided that this is the way to go, then West Grove Borough, who is not part of the study, will have to determine its value, and where we fit into this. That will be a decision that Borough officials will look to me to provide input on, once the course of direction is determined. For now though, we will strive to provide the residents of West Grove Borough with the best police service possible and will work closely with the Pennsylvania State Police at the Avondale Station, who provide supplemental coverage to our town.

CCP: Two years ago, the Chester County Press published a three-part series on the rise of heroin in southern Chester County. Some in the report called heroin in this community an epidemic, some called it a scourge, but the plain truth is, heroin is becoming more accessible here, and with very tragic results. As the new police chief for West Grove, how will you address the transportation, delivery, sale and use of heroin in your community?

King: To me, it comes down to good, aggressive and vigilant patrol enforcement. Our function here is to be a visible entity and responsive to the needs of the community. My officers will strive to look beyond the ticket in order to detect violations of drug laws. It also comes back to building a relationship with our community and getting people to talk to us about things they know exist here. If criminal activity is kept behind closed doors and not brought to our attention, it is very difficult for us to eradicate a trend that we're not aware of. Certainly, if through drug-related arrests made at car stops and inter-agency cooperation and protocols we're able to advance the individual arrest into something that nets us a source of drugs, then certainly we'll do that, but it comes down to the community feeling comfortable enough to point us in the right directions. No community is immune from the drug problem and we all have something at stake in minimizing its impact. I've been in West Grove Borough for a month, and I do not yet have a complete picture as to how we fit into this law enforcement puzzle, but I can guarantee you that we have drugs in this borough, and we'll do our best to find the source, take the appropriate enforcement and keep them out of our area.

CCP: Regarding ways to reduce heroin use, is it a combination of prevention, detection, punishment and enforcement?

King: I think educating our youth through such programs as D.A.R.E. and various school programs, as well as through police interactions with youth, all goes a long way towards alerting them to the dangers of drugs. It's also about getting the message to the teachers and parents and giving them the support they need. It's prevention through education, detection through good patrol enforcement and then appropriate investigative follow-up to find the source of the drugs. It comes also through strict prosecution and sentencing, as well as counseling and treatment. There has to be continued tough penalties for dealing drugs in our area, because if they are not available to be bought, they can't be used. It’s a community problem – every community to some extent – and the full resources of the community and the system have to be brought to bear to deal with it effectively. I know that the Chester County Detectives, the Narcotics Task Force and the Pennsylvania State Police all work tirelessly on the drug problem in our region, and are very effective in doing so.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com .



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