The Borough of Shippensburg is not a “sleepy little borough.”
Shippensburg Borough Police Chief Meredith Dominick has made this observation four months into the job. With times changing, and a current deficit of officers, one of her main focuses is growing Shippensburg Police Department (SPD) to keep up with the busyness of the town.
As a former 28-year member of the Montgomery County Police Department in Maryland, Dominick took over the role of chief Jan. 1, 2019, following the December retirement of longtime police chief Fred Scott. There were 34 applicants for the position, and she signed a one-year contract of $75,000 (not including benefits) with the borough at the end of 2018.
“This is a wonderful police department, a group of dedicated men and women, both sworn and civilian,” she said. “I’m very happy to be here, and I’m very proud to be brought in and be their next chief of police.”
The department recently lost roughly half of its part-time staff due to recent retirements and others moving onto other employment opportunities. Eight full-time officers, and three part-time officers currently compose the force led by Dominick.
The department hired part-time officer Kelsey Hinkle in January, and Shippensburg Borough Council also authorized the Civil Service Commission last Tuesday to begin the process of hiring one more full-time police officer.
Dominick views the approval as a starting point in her long-term vision to grow the department. Council President Andrea Lage said the addition of one-full time police officer for one year will cost the borough $95,000, including benefits.
At a recent council meeting, Lage noted, “This borough is in a very tight place where all of our real estate taxes are going to pay for our police effectively.”
Mayor Kathy Coy said, “We have talked about some creative ways that we might be able to strengthen the police force.”
The challenge is funding, but Dominick is committed to taking the small, slow steps to build up the department.
She said their part-time officers put in “significant” hours, “more than what they should for being a part-time officer,” and thus the addition of another full-time officer will help alleviate this burden and help cover the increase in calls regarding child abuse and domestic dispute calls.
“It’s not the barking dog in the middle of the night, it’s someone is harming someone else that is a spouse,” she said. “It’s the child abuse cases that are coming now because we have mandated reporting. Though that started to change with the laws years ago, these cases seem to have increased in numbers. My one detective is very busy with those types of cases.”
Her standing philosophy is taking “one call at a time,” and thus, she wants her department to be more prepared for the unexpected.
“I can’t divide an officer in half and put him or her in two places. And to be able to say that it’s this type of a call that requires more than one officer, you can’t, because that is the beast of police work. It’s the unknown,” she added.
For example, a criminal mischief investigation into a person slashing tires could “erupt” in seconds and turn into a larger ordeal involving the suspect attacking a officer.
Dominick would also like to see the Burd Street building expand in the future to continue its priorities as a full-service police station.
Until the department sees growth, she does not believe it can move forward in implementing other areas of policing, like if the school district decided to hire a school resource officer, or in areas of specialization, like detective work.
Dominick would also like to become a nationally- and/or state-accredited police department -- CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) and/or PLEAC (Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission) -- which requires taking certain steps toward meeting certain accepted standards and policies.
“It helps solidify that we are serious about our training,” she said. “We are serious about the quality of our officers, the quality of the police service. It has been shown to reduce litigation concerns, and shows that we conform to the policies and standards that are set.”
As chief of the department, Dominick views the role in two parts: 1) making sure citizens and visitors of the borough are able to go about their lawful, day-to-day activities safely 2) making sure her police department has the resources to do the job safely, and at the end of the day, go home to their families.
She is an administrator of the department, but she is also out in the community. However, her time handling investigations or the day-to-day activities of a patrol officer have come to a close, and she now will delegate these roles. She sometimes does have to fight the urge to return to her prior role.
“Oh the bug of course is still there, because that’s why I’m in police work again,” she said. “I wore several hats throughout my 28-year career, but I also have to realize I have a different responsibility now.”
The next ‘logical’ step
Applying to become the next chief of police was the next “logical” position for Dominick in her police career. During her career, she was patrol officer, investigator, sergeant, lieutenant and deputy district commander, to name a few roles, and led many different teams and divisions. As an investigator, she worked with cases involving homicide, sex crimes, domestic violence and elder abuse.
Following her retirement from the Montgomery County Police Department, she decided to teach at Hagerstown Community College as an instructor and coordinator of its Administration of Justice program. She decided to return to the force because she missed law enforcement.
Dominick noted police chiefs of surrounding municipalities were welcoming, helpful and informative in her transition. When it comes to new state laws, her biggest challenge is understanding the workings of the Pennsylvania court system.
Dominick also does not get hung up on the fact that she is one of the few female chiefs in the area.
“Policing is policing. And, I might approach a situation differently than a male officer, or I might approach it the same way,” she said.
Out in the community
Originally from Fairfax County, Virginia, she spent her entire career in Maryland. Dominick didn't know a lot about Shippensburg coming into the role, and there is still a lot she looks forward to experiencing, like her first Corn Festival, Bloom Festival and the parades.
Dominick loves the small-town feel and close-knit community, and getting to know and talk with the many people who have an invested pride in this community.
“With a larger community, you didn’t get to know faces and names per se – constantly moving – here, you slow down a little bit, so you do get to know people, and I like that,” she noted.
She meets with members of Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania State Police, Mayor Kathy Coy, Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson and local elected officials, on a fairly regular basis, and noted meeting with other members of the community, like the members of the various social clubs and even the manager of Sheetz.
She strives to get out and meet even more local business owners.
“If someone hasn't met me yet, everyone is always welcome to come into this police station, and meet me. I welcome that,” she said. “And hopefully, if they haven't been able to do that, I'll be able to get out there and meet them.”