Monday, July 28, 2014





Big job for a small force


February 16. 2013 5:55AM


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From the mall and the residential areas along the bypass to the truck stops, retail supercenters and major chain restaurants lining busy State Highway 315. From the mega industrial parks and distribution centers employing 3,000 workers on Oak, Armstrong and Suscon roads to bucolic rural subdivisions nestled in hollows on the ridge of the Pocono Mountains. And from the International Airport to the massive swamps draining State Game Lands 91, Pittston Township puts the "greater" in Greater Pittston.


As the largest of the local communities at 19 square miles, the township is a bear to police, in more ways than one.


"Sometimes we chase bears around," said Sgt. Lena Angelella, the officer in charge of the Pittston Township Police Department. "Last summer, there was a bear on Oak Street. He was eating out of the dumpster behind a bar and he just wasn't leaving."


Angelella suspects the bear, one of many which live in the township and prompt police calls, was uprooted from its den by development in the nearby CenterPointe Commerce and Trade Park.


Development is the operative word in the township. "We're growing," Angelella said. "I think we have over 100 businesses. Right now, they're preparing the land for a new industrial park going up on Armstrong Road across from UPS."


Traffic accidents on State Route 315 keep the township's police department of three full-timers and nine part-timers busy. Angelella runs split shifts with herself and a part-time officer from noon to 8:30 p.m. to handle calls. With a Pilot Truck Stop, Walmart Supercenter, hotels and restaurants, along with entrances and exits for I-81 and the turnpike on a 1 and 1/2 mile stretch of Route 315, traffic can get chaotic.


"At 3:00, 315 explodes," Angelella said. "From three to eight, it's a raceway. People see us up there at crashes and you'd think they'd slow down, but they don't. Accidents have doubled in the past few years. We had 319 last year, 50 more than the year before. Some departments don't have 50 in a year. We get an enormous amount of tractor trailers, probably triple from a few years ago. They used to turn onto Oak to go to the old Walmart; now they go straight on 315 to go to the new one."


The Mohegan Sun casino has also increased traffic on Route 315, especially in the evening, with a lot of that traffic coming from the Poconos and the Philadelphia area, as the officers have learned through stops and accidents.


The Walmart Supercenter, which opened in November 2010, has also increased retail theft calls for the township's police.


Angelella estimates that, on two out of the five days she's on duty and on three out of four weekends, township police have someone in custody by 3:30 in the afternoon. "Usually it's not a first offense, it's a third or fourth. That ties up an officer who has to take the offender to the magistrate."


On average, the township police will file more than70 citations a month with the magistrate and make 25 arrests, three for felonies.


Amidst the accidents, retail thefts, DUIs and domestic disputes, township police also patrol Route 502 and Suscon Road where speeding is an issue. "There are a lot of crashes on those roads and we try to make people aware we are up there," Angelella said.


A 15-year-old girl was killed in a Suscon Road wreck in January 2010. A year earlier, a young man was killed in a motorcycle accident near the same spot. Angelella was working when the girl was killed and it was emotional for her. "You have to finish your shift and then somebody might say something like, ‘that cop was rude and all I did was ask for directions,'" she said. "But how do you shake something like that? People forget you're human."


The vastness of the area between Suscon Road and Route 502, including thousands of acres of woods, can make for a long response time to a call. For example, it would take an officer patrolling Suscon Road 20 minutes to get to a call on Route 502.


Angelella said when she joined the Pittston Township police force in 1997, calls to break up underage drinking parties in wooded areas such as Devil's Falls in Suscon were fairly common, but they are rare these days. "There are so many places to go, there is always that potential," she said, "but these days we get more calls to homes than in the woods. I guess the kids today are lazy," she said laughing. "It's too much work to go out in the woods and start a fire for a party."


Angelella said calls to the township's three bars – the By Pass Lounge, Bar on Oak and Miller's – are rare. "They are all pretty quiet," she said. "Really, not a problem at all."


The township police responded to more than 1,700 calls last year, not including the 319 traffic accidents. Given the rural nature of much of the township, among the more than 1,700 calls were a few for lost hunters. "We had one hunter who came out of the woods, then went back in," Angelella said. "I think he forgot something in his tree stand. He got disoriented and couldn't find his way out. It was cold and rainy. We responded, the fire department responded and they got him out."


While many of the calls are fairly routine, crazy stuff does happen. In January, a man was taken into custody after he allegedly discharged two rounds from a rifle and hit a residence being used as the municipal tax office. Here's the crazy part: the alleged shooter was described as "partially nude."


"It goes to show you never know what's going to happen," Angelella said. "That was a Friday. I just walked in the office. I was out all day and said ‘today I'm going home at 3:30.' I didn't get home until 1:00 in the morning."


On top of everything else, the township also has an officer on duty at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre International Airport 16 hours a day, seven days a week, a position funded by a grant from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA.)


Angelella was born and raised in Pittston Township, where her father John was the fire chief. He died of a heart attack fighting a fire on the bypass 30 years ago when his daughter was just 7 years old.


Today, her Uncle Anthony Angelella is the fire chief and his son and grandson by the same name are fire fighters.


Angelella said because she grew up in the township and because of her family legacy of public service, she feels a special connection.


"I don't know. It's hard to describe," she said. "It's different because I have a love for the town."


 


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