Lydell Nolt to be sworn in as Kennett Township Police Chief on July 15
By Richard Gaw
For Lydell Nolt and his five siblings, growing up in a farming family in southern Lancaster County was a nearly idyllic childhood, but it was not the rolling hills and barns and silos of the farming world that ultimately guided the youngster to pursue a career in law enforcement. It was the Maryland state police.
Because the family farm was a stone's throw away from the state line, the Nolt family did a lot of their errands in Maryland, where the impressionable youngster was glued to the way the officers conducted their business. Professionalism, he said, seemed to roll off of their shoulders. He had kicked around the idea of growing up to be a car salesman, but the idea of spending his life in the service of others -- much like the officers he admired -- seemed to be a worthwhile pursuit.
After more than four years in the department, the decision Nolt made years ago has paid off handsomely. On July 15, before the township's board of supervisors, township residents and his family, Nolt will officially be sworn in as the Kennett Township Chief of Police, following a brief tenure as the township's acting police chief, after the retirement of Albert McCarthy in May. Nolt began his tenure in Kennett Township in 2010.
"Chief Nolt has the experience, education, and perspective to strengthen and grow the department and its ties to the community, and lead the township’s efforts to address new and growing public safety challenges," said Kennett Township Manager Lisa Moore. "He is dedicated to becoming part of the community including the schools and other local organizations through improved communication, school programs, mutual setting of goals and priorities, and a shared goal of community policing."
Effective policing has a lengthy list of intangibles in its arsenal that are just as important as protecting people, Nolt believes, and it begins with getting out of a police vehicle and talking with the people he and his two part-time officers were hired to serve. As a matter of conducting daily business, Nolt is looking to increase the visibility of the department by visiting local schools, and not only stopping by local businesses, but sitting down and having lunch with them.
"This position allows me the privilege to put this agency and the integrity of that agency on display," he said recently. "The biggest opportunity I have is for this agency to go into our community with the integrity that people demand, which is to be transparent and do the right things. It's my responsibility to set up, transport that integrity into the community, and maintain that for the entirety of my tenure.
"This agency is this community, and this community is this agency," he said.
Ramping up his department does not stop at having lunch with the residents or visiting schools. Nolt has also been pushing to equip the department with e-ticket program software – which he hopes to have up and running in about a month -- and is looking to outfit himself and his other officers with body-worn cameras, which are normally fitted on an officer's chest.
"The unfortunate part of law enforcement is that we're always racing to catch up, but items are continually coming on the market that can make us do our jobs more safely and efficiently," he said. "Every police officer in the nation should [be equipped with] an on-body camera. About 98 percent of the time, we're doing things correctly, but a video documentation can provide an idea of what we did that failed, which allows us to view it and fix the failure. The police department is a service industry, and if we can integrate technology into our polices and procedures, we're then able to provide a better product."
Effective management skills are rarely developed in a classroom; rather, they are best molded on the job, particularly when one is asked to perform duties beyond that which is written in a job description. Over the past few years, Nolt was thrust into a leadership role when McCarthy went on extended medical leave, stemming from two car collisions he had -- one in 2011 and the second occuring this past April -- while operating a police vehicle. Board of Supervisors Chairman Scudder Stevens praised Nolt for effectively running the police department during the times when McCarthy was on a medical leave of absence.
"Chief Nolt has not been, and will not be, a status quo performer," Stevens said. "It’s important to remember that he was hired as a part time police officer at a time of transition in Kennett Township, when our one-person force was moving from a 'folding notebook in the chest pocket' kind of department to a fully computerized organization that is blended with the county."
Nolt steps into his new role at a period when the future of policing in southern Chester County is a major intersection. Kennett Township has joined with the police departments at New Garden Township, Kennett Borough and the West Grove Borough to explore the feasibility of establishing a regional police force which, if implemented, would provide round-the-clock coverage and create specialty investigative and crime units. While the participating departments continue to sharpen their pencils on the details of the concept, Nolt sees several advantages that would a regional plice department would have.
"While there are a lot of major caveats that can be problematic in regional policing, there are a lot of things you're tasked to do at an agency that requires specialized training and focus that you just can't accomplish on your own," he said. "When you're a small agency, you do not have the resources to actually form those specialized entities. A regional police agency allows for more specialized training."
Nolt begins his tenure at a time when the law enforcement profession has been placed under the microscope of public criticism for all to peck away at, when not a week goes by without social media capturing police incidents of threat, intimidation and violence. Nolt believes that breaking down these stereotypes begins with transparency -- the simple act of taking the aviator glasses off, stepping out of a police vehicle and offering a friendly hand.
"This uniform is my profession, but at the end of the day, I do all of the same things that the people I serve do," Nolt said. "I'm just another person, who has been afforded an opportunity to help a vast amount of people, through my profession. I tell every officer I work with, 'Change, assistance and help starts with you. You may only be able to change one person's life in two years, but you need to know that you have changed one person's life.'"