May 31—Retired Johnstown police captain Jeff Janciga is building a police force from the ground up.
Janciga was hired in March as chief of police in St. Clair Township, Westmoreland County. The newly formed police department patrols the township, Seward and New Florence boroughs.
His goal is to build strong ties with residents and to earn the public's confidence.
"The situation in the township is ripe for putting my ideas into place," Janciga said. "A stronger community-oriented policing effort and rebuilding the public trust."
Township Supervisor Carl Fabrizio said the police coverage in the past had been spotty.
"A part-timer here, a part-timer there," he said. "This is a win-win."
Last year, the three municipalities named a three-member police advisory committee to explore the feasibility of starting a police department, said Jessica Constable, Seward council member and advisory board member.
"There was a lot of discussion and we had a township meeting for the public to comment," she said.
The police department was formed under a one-year contract with the goal of providing 104 hours of police coverage each week. The department has two full-time members and will add part-time staff.
"It's a very positive change," Constable said.
Janciga comes with a strong police background. He recently retired after more than 20 years with the Johnstown Police Department, rising through the ranks from patrolman to sergeant to captain. He was a K-9 handler for eight years and a member of the Special Emergency Response Team for 10 years. He also is a certified emergency medical technician and paramedic and a member of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.
Janciga is working to earn the communities' trust after a Seward police officer was charged last year with obstruction of justice and official oppression, accused of having sex with a woman he had previously stopped for running a stop sign.
"An incident like that will erode the public trust," Janciga said. "In a smaller community, public trust is paramount to being able to do a good job."
Fabrizio said he is impressed with what he sees.
"Just looking at what Jeff has done since he came here in March, the traffic has slowed down because the police are out and about," he said.
Without a local police force, it would take state police about an hour to arrive from Greensburg, Fabrizio said.
Janciga knows that police use of lethal force is being debated in communities across the nation.
"It's a hot-button issue," he said.
Janciga said more hand-to-hand combat training is needed. He is trained in Krav Maga, a military fighting technique that was developed for the Israel Defense Forces. The training includes defending yourself against a knife attack without resorting to deadly force.
"It provides you with more of a ability to resolve things without resulting to lethal force and to prevent officer injury," he said.
Janciga said he's grateful to have residents' trust in leading the St. Clair Township Police Department.
"The best way to summarize it is I get to create a police department from the ground up," he said. "I want to give the community what they expect from their police department."