On the night after Richard Pritchard was introduced as Johnstown’s new chief of police, his officers were called to a homicide in the city’s West End.
Two days after his introduction, Pritchard sat down with the city’s police advisory committee – even as the nation wrestles with relationships between law enforcement entities and their communities, especially minority residents.
Welcome to Johnstown, chief.
Don’t expect to prop your feet up and relax.
“So basically, it’s Policing 101, and I’ve been doing it all my adult life,” Pritchard said on Monday at his introduction press conference.
Pritchard will have the support of residents and merchants – and The Tribune-Democrat – as he plunges into task of making Johnstown the safest city it can be. But there is much work ahead.
Pritchard served with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, and more recently spent 20 years with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Department, rising to the rank of lieutenant.
As our Dave Sutor reported, Pritchard helped develop security policies for schools in Allegheny County after retiring from the Pittsburgh force.
“I’m going to draw from my experiences as a lieutenant in (Pittsburgh) Zone 5 and being acting commander in the city of Pittsburgh,” Plunkard said. “I have a lot of support from the relationships that I built there, and so I’ll be calling on those resources, as well as what I have here now in Johnstown, to bring it all together.”
The new chief’s to-do list is long, and includes recruiting officers – a challenge at departments across the country – and tackling crime concerns from drugs to homicides.
Another high priority will be strengthening relationships with the community.
Deacon Jeffrey Wilson, president of the city’s police advisory board, called the group’s first meeting with Pritchard on Wednesday “very positive.”
The committee shared with Pritchard its plan for enhancing police-community relations. Priorities include recruitment of racial minorities and women to the force, diversity and de-escalation training, independent investigations and greater transparency in instances of alleged police misconduct.
“It’s very important that we have a type of city that is very close-knit,” Wilson said. “So we want to make sure that the police department continues to engage the public, church community and others within the city in policing.”
The city had an opportunity to make a minority hire with this position and instead went the traditional route – a veteran officer who is male and white.
Time will tell if that was the right move.
Mayor Frank Janakovic and former interim City Manager John Trant praised Pritchard’s experience and management style – which they said made him stand out during a nationwide search.
“With the new chief, he’s bringing a wealth of experience to the table, having worked in the Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., areas,” Janakovic said. “Hopefully that experience will pay off in regard to dealing with the drug issues and the policing. One of the big things we’re really looking at in this area is the community policing, making ourselves visible.”
Captain Chad Miller had guided the Johnstown department on an interim basis since former Chief Robert Johnson stepped down last summer.
“Ultimately, we were looking for a well-qualified candidate, who was ready to lead this department and would also integrate with the city of Johnstown,” Trant said. “It was important that myself and council felt conformable with the person in terms of not only their skills and qualifications and experience, but also their character and their ability to understand the city of Johnstown and Pritchard certainly brought that to the table.”
This particular table is set with plenty of important tasks for the new chief of police, who will need to be every bit as good as Trant and Janakovic say.
His first week – a fatal shooting, questions about issues of training and diversity – left little time for easing into the position.
But it was really just another week for city police.
Throw in a robbery, a burglary, some traffic violations, a drug bust or two – along with meeting with business owners and visiting city neighborhoods – all against the backdrop of local poverty, national mistrust and a lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
That’s the job – as important as any in our region.