Karen Kennedy spent 35 years teaching in New Jersey before moving back to Pennsylvania. When she attended the Saxonburg Borough Police Department Citizen’s Police Academy class, Kennedy listened intently.
Kennedy, 83, thought Saxonburg police chief Joe Beachem, led a class that communicated information in a way adults could grasp better than other seminars. When it came time to do a ride along and sit with Beachem during traffic stops, she was prepared.
“He waited for the first guy to stop and called in the license plate,” Kennedy said. “He explained to me what was going on with this guy. He asked ‘Should we ticket this guy?’ I said ‘Oh, yeah. Big time.’ We pulled over a second guy and asked if we should ticket him or not. I said ‘Let him go.’ He said it's good you were listening in my class.”
Beachem has made community outreach a major part of his administration since he took over as chief of the Saxonburg Borough Police Department in 2010. For Beachem’s long dedication to serving the community, he was nominated by the Saxonburg Area Rotary Club for a Hometown Hero Award.
Beachem, who accepted the job after working in Tyrone, Blair County, knew he would need to draw on all of his collective experience to be successful in Saxonburg.
After graduating from Slippery Rock Area High School in 1986, Beachem spent time with the Parker, Ford City, Greenfield Township (Blair County) and Tyrone police departments. He also worked for the Butler County Prison.
“It was a different style of policing for sure,” Beachem said. “We don’t have the crime levels in Saxonburg that we have in Tyrone. It was a breath of fresh air. It’s a great town. There’s a real sense of community there. That’s what I enjoyed the most.”
The citizens academy has been a favorite with the police and community. While it paused during the pandemic, Beachem hopes to start it again soon.
Beachem said there were also classes for senior citizens to educate them on fraud and crimes against the elderly.
Kennedy, who attended Maryville (Tenn.) College, appreciated that the course included lectures but also things that had tangible aspects, such as a demonstration of how a drug dog does its work.
Kennedy even enjoyed the test, where she had to leave a few things blank. “I didn’t do well on it,” she said. “Of course, the teacher, you know. We got a certificate from the police academy and put it on the wall-of-fame in my den.”
Beachem said the students usually enjoy the ride-alongs as well. He said some participants are enthusiastic and do an entire shift, while most who participate stay involved for three or four hours.
Anyone who does a ride-along would stay in the police car when responding with an officer to a call such as a case of a domestic abuse. If a dangerous event were to occur, Beachem said the police would return the citizen to the station before responding.
“It’s those kinds of things, when you have an outreach like that, you are able to build relationships with the people you serve,” Beachem said. “They are more likely to report things that should be reported. It develops trust with police officers.”
The Saxonburg police currently has nine officers, seven part-time along with Beachem and a lieutenant, who are both full-time. Beachem said he hopes to get one more officer on board to get the force to 10 or 11 officers.
Recruiting and retention have challenged nearly every community regarding first responders. Beachem said he enjoys doing outreach at local events and with children to try and help build strong community relations.
“I really enjoy that,” Beachem said. “Right now, policing there is an incredible manpower shortage from the big departments to the small ones like ours. That’s every industry right now. There’s been a lot of negativity toward police in the last few years. It’s good to be able to put a human face on the job.”