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April 18, 2013

South Fork fills police dept. posts

— South Fork Borough has filled the vacancies on its two-person police force with the hiring of a retired state trooper and a young South Fork resident to its ranks.

Shawn McDonald, 49, who will fill the full-time position at the department, comes to the borough with a 28-year career in law enforcement under his belt.

Jeremy Sciflowicz is a newer officer and will be sworn in later this week, according to borough secretary Carri Mathieson.

Originally from Latrobe, McDonald spent his first three years policing Derry and West Newton boroughs before joining the state police. He retired after 25 years of service.

McDonald said he’s done police work for his entire adult life and, with his recent addition to the South Fork police force, he acknowledged that he was itching to get back to the job.

“If it’s in your blood, it’s one of those things that’s always with you,” he said. “They needed help and I thought, ‘Y’know what? I’m starting to have a craving to get back to work.’ ”

McDonald was a first responder not only to the Shanksville crash site on Sept. 11, 2001, but also the Camp Hill prison riots in 1989. Over a 46-hour period between two days, he assisted in taking back the prison from inmates who had beaten guards, set fires and taken hostages.

“I was in the first group that went into the prisons. There were about 40 of us,” he said. “I was on the job with the state police for a couple years at the time. It was quite an experience.”

McDonald earned an associate degree in police science from Westmoreland Community College, turning down a Division I football scholarship to pursue law enforcement.

In addition to volunteering with Richland athletics, McDonald coached fifth- and sixth-grade wrestling at St. Benedict. He even showed Richland’s “big” John Rizzo around the mat – although he referred to Rizzo as “little” then.

McDonald said small-town police forces are too often pushed by the wayside when budgets get tight or personnel become sparse.

“You gotta do more with less,” he said. “Over the last couple of years, the state police have had so many people retire, they can't keep up with the rate of retirees.”

According to McDonald, the lack of a local police force seriously hinders response time, officer availability and situational awareness. When hard times lead to budget or personnel cuts, it makes the police work reactive instead of proactive.

“A lot of good officers are just run ragged,” he said. “I believe I could help the borough of South Fork with my experience and also help Jeremy with my experience. My main goal is to help the community and make it a safer place and (cultivate) a proactive police department.”

McDonald said a lot of that work is getting to know the locals. In small towns, McDonald asserts, it’s not what you know but who you know. A personable nature seemed to be an important factor in the council members’ hiring decision.

“In a small town, they have to have a mix of a lot of PR. The people have to feel comfortable with you,” he said. “You have to know when to get tough with certain people. You have to stay on top of the trends in crime and the people coming in and out of the municipality.

“The people of South Fork seem to be very friendly and they’re very open and accepting of an outsider coming to police them, and I appreciate that,” he said.

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