Borough council backs Mouchette as permanent police chief; will pay be enough to keep him?
Middletown Borough Council says it wants interim Police Chief George Mouchette to have the job permanently.
The question is whether council pay what is necessary to keep him.
Council, immediately following a closed-door executive session at its June 20 meeting, voted 7-0 to nominate Mouchette, who has led the department for six months, to the borough Civil Service Commission.
Mouchette currently makes $60,000 a year with no benefits or 401(k). Mayor James H. Curry III said it will take a higher salary than that, although he wouldn’t speculate on how much, to help stop the revolving door of chiefs in the borough.
Counting Mouchette, Middletown has had six acting, interim or “permanent” police chiefs since February 2012, when Keith Reismiller resigned after 15 years as the borough’s top cop.
Details of a contract have not been finalized, Curry said. The Civil Service Commission is the next step in the hiring process.
Mouchette accepted an invitation to be interviewed by the commission on Thursday, June 29, he told the Press & Journal.
“I do feel deeply honored that I have been nominated,” Mouchette said. “I think that council over the past six months since I have been chief has done a lot to improve the police department, by getting rifles, Tasers and other things. The fact that they are trying to improve this police department and they nominated me makes me feel that they have confidence in me, and I am deeply honored by that.”
Six months in role
Curry appointed Mouchette as the borough’s interim police chief on Jan. 5, following the resignation of John Bey.
Curry hand-picked Mouchette as interim chief, and the mayor has said his relationship with Mouchette is the best he has had with any of the four chiefs during his tenure.
“I fully support Chief Mouchette. I think he’s done an excellent job,” Curry said.
“He knows what I am looking for in terms of a vision, and he knows how to implement it. I’m just very excited about that,” he added.
Curry did not want the borough to hire a permanent chief until after the borough had fully explored an alternative policing arrangement — either contracting with another municipality for police services, or the borough becoming part of a new regional police force.
In May, Curry and Council President Damon Suglia both said that talks with Lower Swatara Township aimed at the borough paying the township for police services had come to a dead end.
Mouchette “has the full support of council” in becoming permanent chief, Suglia told the Press & Journal on June 21. “He’s helped us through a time of transition. He’s shown his love and dedication to the town of Middletown and we feel as if he would make this borough a safer place to live. We feel he would be a great public leader here in our community.”
Retired New York cop
A retired New York City police detective who now lives in Derry Township, Mouchette grew up in some “very tough” parts of the city in the 1980s. Seeing crack cocaine ravage the neighborhoods where he lived made him want to be a cop, so he could “clean up the neighborhood and so good citizens can live in peace.
But New York Police Department is “such a huge organization that it is difficult to feel I am making a difference.” Not so in Middletown.
“I can directly impact people’s lives and make them better. Every Middletown citizen, their safety is my responsibility,” Mouchette said. “It makes me feel good when I see moms bringing kids to school and the kids are safe because we are there. I enjoy working with the community and having a direct influence on peoples’ lives for the better.”
Curry said the community policing aspect of the police department “is really starting to come to fruition, and I think it has a lot to do with the interplay between George and I.”
The mayor’s own job is not guaranteed beyond 2017. Curry is being challenged in the November election for mayor by Republican Robert Givler, the retired Middletown police officer whom Curry defeated in 2013.
Chief salary dropping
Middletown has been going backward when it comes to how much the town pays for a police chief. Reismiller was making about $95,000 a year when he stepped down in 2012, and his replacement was being paid the same until he left after four months.
Steven Wheeler, the borough’s last permanent chief before Bey, held the job from January 2013 to April 2014. He made $72,500.
Mouchette is making $28.85 an hour as interim chief — $60,000 a year — with no benefits or 401(k). Bey was making more than $80,000 when he left in late December, according to Curry.
The borough budgeted $108,542 for salary and benefits of a police chief in 2017, said Middletown Finance Director Kevin Hartman.
Following a private industry standard of 35 percent for benefits would mean that the borough budgeted $70,553 for the salary of its police chief in 2017.
Council is going to have to pay Mouchette more than $60,000.
The mayor wouldn't speculate on how much more. But Curry referred to the revolving door nature of the town being able to keep police chiefs, be they acting or permanent.
Since Reismiller left, the longest serving chief has been Bey, who led the department for 26 months.
Curry has worked with four chiefs — including Mouchette — since becoming mayor in January 2014.
“That’s too much turnover. Turnover in terms of the No. 1 position of leadership within the department leads to instability,” Curry said. “If we are not going to pursue a contracted services agreement or a regionalization situation and we are going to keep our own force, we are going to (have to) pay for it.”
“If we want to keep a chief for a long period of time, we are going to have to pay them fairly.”
Suglia said he can’t discuss what council is willing to pay Mouchette. “You have to see what is comparable out there.”
However, Suglia agreed with Curry that the revolving door of police chiefs in recent years is bad for the department, and the town.
“We need stability in our department at this time,” Suglia said.
Police chief is not listed in the most recent May 2016 table of occupational wages for the Harrisburg-Carlisle metropolitan statistical area, compiled by the Center for Workplace Information & Analysis for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
The table does list an average annual salary of $97,740 for supervisors of police and detectives. The median annual wage in the same category is $104,910, the entry annual wage is $67,310, and the experienced annual wage is $112,950.
The “mid-range annual wage” for supervisors of police and detectives in the Harrisburg-Carlisle MSA runs from $74,280 to $119,560, according to the report.