We were again joined this morning by Joe Bartorilla, Middletown’s Chief of Police during our weekly Zoom meeting.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in public administration and a master’s degree in administrative science, both from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He also graduated from the FBI National Academy, the Northwest University School of Police Staff and Command and the Police Executive Research Forum’s Senior Management Institute. Joe was also a 20-year veteran of the Philadelphia police force before being named chief after a seven-month search by the Township’s Board of Supervisors.
Since then Chief Bartorilla has lived up to his commitment to be an accessible chief and be a part of the community. “I’m not the type of chief who will come into the office and shut the door at 8:00 AM and then leave at 60 PM,” he said. “You’re going to know who I am; you are going to meet me.”
Joe spoke at length about the two unique challenges his department has faced in just the past several months; COVID-19 and the issues arising from the death of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement.
The Middletown Police Department took the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic seriously very early and began assembling PPE for its personnel … recognizing that the very nature of their job required them to come in regular contact with people throughout the community when social distancing was often not an option. Their custom masks are even carry the department’s logo for additional recognition.
Despite all their preparation, nine officers contracted COVID-19. However, none of them required hospitalization and they have had no new infections for the past four months. The first of those who caught the disease had many of the symptoms and was really sick. A second officer had relatively mild symptoms (loss to taste and smell) but took much longer to recover as she had a lingering cough for a period of time. In all instances, mandated contract tracing was necessary to identify everyone, personal and on-the-job, with whom they had recently been in contact.
The department to a far more aggressive approach that recommended by the county where it came to requiring masks and social distancing (wherever possible and practicable). Joe feels that Bucks County has done a good job in containing the spread and that the Commonwealth had done “pretty well”.
In related matters, while he has not seen any “sharp” increases, there have been upticks in domestic violence in the county as well as in homelessness and the needs for children in youth. Initially, one of the biggest challenges was the shelters and organizations who help were reluctant to admit people as so much was unknown about COVID-19. Fortunately, this situation has improved, and Joe has been impressed with the recent responses from local houses of worship and volunteer organizations who have tried to assist these people … including A Woman’s Place for which the Club has again recently raised funds through its Virtual Charity Walk.
Chief Bartorilla then went on to describe the department’s role and responses to the civil unrest resulting from the BLM movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd. The key date for the Middletown Police Department was Sunday, May 31st when rioting and looting began to occur in Trenton and Philadelphia … and began to spread to section of the city not normally plagued by such incidents and well as some of the suburbs.
Upon learning of a planned rally at the Five Points intersection on social media, officers were deployed to what appeared to be about 100 peaceful demonstrators. Meanwhile, five other officers wee sent to the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem where reports of looting surface … and to support the Bensalem Police Department which has sent some of its officers to Philadelphia.
Chief Bartorilla, using his cell phone, learned of some threats to the Oxford Valley Mall and possibly Sesame Place. He instructed his men to circle the Mall in their cars with their police lights on to send a signal that they were prepared for any unlawful activity. Similar efforts to discourage problems continue for the next week.
They did have one incident stemming from some vandalism of some vehicles at the Happy Hour Tavern. The suspects were located and detained along Veterans Highway. Fortunately, they were extremely “respectful” and for the most part “cooperative”. Three arrests resulted.
The recent arrest in the Bronx of the individual who punched a teenage worker a Sesame Place resulted form the officer on duty at the amusement park having gotten the license plate for the perpetrators and the timely cooperation of the NYPD. The man was arrested and ha since been transferred to Bucks County where is currently resides in jail. His wife was given 30-day s to turn herself in, as the authorities wanted to give her the time to make arrangements for the care of her four children.
Joe gives Governor Wolf credit for his “education” not “confrontation” policy when it comes to dealing with individuals not wearing a face covering or properly socially distancing.
A question came up about solicitation calls from people alleging to be from police benevolent organizations. Joe identified three, the Bucks County Order of Police, the Bucks County Chief’s of Police and the Bucks County Police Association (which supports many charitable causes) as legitimate groups. At the same time, he encourages people not to be intimidated or feel they had to contribute to any of these groups.
He also hoped that the Department’s Shop with a Cop initiative could again be held, even if on a scaled-down basis, but knows that everything rests on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Club thanked for his candor and availability to our Club, its members and community at-large.