Shamokin chief: Retiring difficult, but correct choice
SHAMOKIN - Police Chief Edward Griffiths said his officers have done "more than their share" to help with the city's financial problems.
The chief said those financial difficulties, and his philosophical differences with new Mayor William Milbrand of how to run the department, led to making his surprise announcement Tuesday that he'll retire at the end of the month after 22 years on the force.
During an interview Wednesday morning in his office, Griffiths said retiring was a difficult decision, but also the correct choice.
Griffiths, 53, who also has held the positions of patrolman, narcotics investigator and corporal, said his retirement should save the city money by eliminating his $63,000 salary plus benefits.
The chief said police work has become a tougher profession today than when he joined the force due to an increase in illegal drug use, especially heroin, a rash of other crimes prompted by drug addiction and a drastic change in demographics.
"Area residents don't realize how lucky they are to have great police protection," he said. "The guys in this department are dedicated and second to none."
When Griffiths started his career, Shamokin Police Department had 14 officers. When he retires, that number will be down to 10.
To make the department run efficiently, Griffiths said at least 12 full-time officers are required.
"Even before the furloughs of two full-time officers and two part-time special officers, we were down one officer who was never replaced," Griffiths said about city council's controversial Dec. 23 vote, which it reversed about a month later. "Recalling the two police officers and one of the part-time special officers at reduced hours has definitely helped, but we still aren't at full capacity."
The chief added, "The officers have done more than their share to help the city with its financial problems."
Griffiths said Shamokin has become a "small town with big city problems."
Differences with Milbrand
The chief declined to go into specifics about his strained relationship with Milbrand, who became mayor in January after formerly serving on council.
"Let's just say our philosophies were different on how to operate the police department," Griffiths said. "He talked about getting cooperation from the police, but cooperation is a two-way street. I feel with the differences Billy and I have with each other and the city's financial crisis, now was the best time to go."
In an interview Tuesday night, Griffiths had said the police department was moving in the wrong direction under Milbrand's leadership.
Milbrand was caught off guard when reached for comment Tuesday night, and expressed disappointment in having not been informed directly. But he said it wouldn't do the city or department any good for him to specify criticisms.
"All I asked him for is to cooperate and do a few things that we asked him to do," he said. "If that's not getting along and butting heads, that's what it is."
Efforts to contact Milbrand for additional comment Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful.
'Not fun' anymore
Griffiths, who noted a city officer only needs 20 years on the force to become eligible for retirement, thanked all the city residents who supported him through the years, his fellow officers and city officials.
"A chief is only as good as his officers, and I believe I had the respect of the guys in my department," he said. "I liked being a cop and serving the taxpayers and would have preferred to retire after 25 years. But morale is down and I can honestly say it's not fun coming to work every day, which makes it time to retire."
Griffiths said he always strived to do what's best for the city and its citizens, while also standing behind his officers and their families in terms of making a safe living.
He particularly thanked his wife, Kayleen, for supporting his career, and the couple's two children, Kiera Griffiths, 14, and Michael Bramhall, 26.
Griffiths praised current council members for making positive changes to the city and opening up lines of communication. He also commended former mayor George Rozinskie for appointing him chief, former mayor and councilman James Yurick Jr. and current councilman R. Craig Rhoades for voting to hire him as a police officer, and city public safety technician Larry Strausser for providing great assistance to him and the city for many years.
As for his future plans, Griffiths said he doesn't have another job lined up. "I plan to spend more time with my family," he said.
The chief said he did not know who the next chief will be, but offered him the following advice: "Be dedicated to your guys no matter what type of political pressure you face."
The mayor appoints the police chief and oversees the police department.
The third-class city code requires an officer from within the department to be promoted to the position. The three corporals on the force are Bryan Primerano, Darwin Tobias III and Jarrod Scandle.
Fellow chiefs react
Griffiths was lauded for his service by neighboring police officials and city council members, most of whom were caught off guard by his decision.
Mount Carmel Police Chief Todd Owens, who has known Griffiths for more than 20 years, said he was shocked.
"I've worked with him through the years with the drug task force," he said. "He was always a good guy to work with and had great experience as a criminal and narcotics investigator, and also did a good job as an administrator."
Coal Township Police Chief William Carpenter said he had "no idea it was coming."
"I've worked with him for a lot of years and wish him the best of luck in his retirement," he said.
In referencing Griffiths' love for fishing, Carpenter, a 32-year veteran of the township police department who has been chief for eight years, kiddingly stated, "There will be a lot less trout in Mahantongo Creek by the end of the summer."
Council members shocked
Councilman David Kinder said he learned of the decision in Wednesday's News-Item.
"He's been an excellent policeman and chief, and he's also a very good person," he said. "But I understand he needs to do what's best for him."
Councilman Charlie Verano expressed shock, too, but said he has no ill feelings and thinks "the world of Eddie Griffiths as a man."
Verano said he discussed several issues with Griffiths and told him he was committed to having the furloughed officers return to work, which council and the mayor were able to achieve.
"Nothing led me to believe he was going to retire, but I don't blame him," he said. "There is a lot of pressure in that position and it's a different environment today from when he came onto the force. I wish him and his family nothing but the best and I would hope he will continue to be my friend and support me."
Councilwoman Barbara Moyer also found out about Griffiths' retirement when reading Wednesday's newspaper.
"I was genuinely surprised by it. I looked forward to working with him," she said. "I've known Ed through various capacities over the years and always had a good rapport with him. We had been working on a plan to reopen the playground on Shamokin Street. I wish him well."
Had been 'grumblings'
Rhoades, who has been a councilman for 23 years, said Griffiths retirement will be "a great loss" to the city and police department.
"I voted to hire him many years ago and our relationship goes way back," he said.
Rhoades said he understands some of Griffiths' concerns, but refrained from commenting about them because they involve the mayor.
Rhoades was the only council member not surprised by Griffiths' decision to retire.
"There has been some grumblings due to the way things have been handled within the police department and speculation that he was seriously looking into retiring," Rhoades said. "I can understand the difficulties he's having. It's sad there wasn't better communication between him and the mayor."
When police officer furloughs were originally considered in December, four full-timers and two part-timers were in jeopardy. Two full-time officers and the two part-timers were eventually laid off when the budget was adopted that month.
Milbrand and the new council worked in January to recall the full-timers, both of whom were laid off less than one month before being recalled. One of the part-timers was recalled, too, and a vacant secretarial position at the department was filled.
But the city and the police union are also engaged in contract negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. The old one expired at the end of 2013. Details are sparse on what both sides may be seeking, but it's not unlikely that the city would be seeking to maintain current salaries while union members would be looking to continue annual raises. Length of contract may also be at issue.