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19 January
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Hegins Township police chief set to retire

HEGINS — The first year Steven S. Lohr became chief of Hegins Township police he remembers it was also the last year of the Fred Coleman Memorial Labor Day Pigeon Shoot at Hegins Park. Lohr, 64, who’s retiring Friday, reflected on the challenges of working in law enforcement, from what he describes as a “lenient judicial system,” to policing the park and overcoming injury.

Becoming a police officer wasn’t Lohr’s initial career path. A son of the late George and Elsie Lohr, Hubley Township, Lohr formerly ran a timber business with his father and encouraged him to launch a motorcycle business, called Tri-Valley Cycle Sales.

“When I was a teenager, we started that up. I was never really big on cars. We did car repairs, too, but I was more into motorcycles,” he said. He also competed in motocross cycle racing in Leck Kill and Pine Grove.

Lohr was a 1970 Tri-Valley High School graduate, and participated in wrestling, football and gymnastics, competing in the floor exercise, rings and uneven bars. He attended what was then Lock Haven State College, majoring in health and physical education, with thoughts of becoming a gym teacher or health teacher.

“I went three and a half years, then I quit. The cycle shop was getting too big, and dad couldn’t handle it, and I made that decision,” he said.

Hubley stint

At that time, Glenn Miller, a Hubley Township policeman, was leaving, so Lohr applied for the job, and Hubley Township hired him. He got his Act 120 training in 1982.

In 1990, Jeff Bowman was leaving the Hegins Township police force, and the supervisors had asked if Lohr would be interested in serving there. He started in February 1990 as a sergeant, then eventually became Hegins Township police chief when Melvin Stutzman retired as chief in 1992.

Pigeon shoot

Providing police coverage at the Fred Coleman Memorial Labor Day Pigeon Shoot at Hegins Park was among Lohr’s most challenging. In 1992, which turned out to be the last year for the shoot, Lohr was told the day before that his department would be handling the actual park grounds, while state police would be in charge of the surrounding areas.

“The pigeon shoot was the worst event to cover. The year I became chief, in 1992, the state pulled their presence back from the park. Our department handled the park area itself; and they handled everything around the park. That was the year the protesters surrounded themselves in barrels up on Main Street (Route 25).

“Everybody was so mad at me, but that was not our responsibility. We had our order, this is your area, you are in charge of that and we will handle everything else. If you don’t follow the plan, it all goes to crap. All the locals were mad, because we would not leave the park,” he said. “That was bad that year. I was so glad when that year was over, but it all turned out.”

Consuming challenges

The most difficult part of his job, he said, is dealing with fatalities.

“Probably the murders we had were the worst and the most time-consuming. It just consumes you. The Smith murder, up on Main Street, that happened the day before Christmas, and by New Year’s Eve, we had an arrest. You live the job until it’s done. There were no holidays that year.”

“I’d say the suicides, and making the death notifications. It’s hard because I know everybody and grew up with everybody. It’s never easy, but it’s hard telling someone their son or daughter, or mom has died.”

Retirement

Several factors indicated it was time for him to retire, Lohr said.

“Especially, since I broke my leg three years ago, it’s not the same. I always felt confident in myself, physically. But, it’s not the same. I just don’t feel I can do the job. My shifts get tougher. You reach a time where you just can’t do it anymore without the wear and tear. It’s not fair to your other officers, if you get into a (fight), and you can’t hold up your end anymore. I think it was a combination of age, and frustration with the leniency of the system.”

Broken leg

Lohr was on an EMS call and was assisting loading a patient in the back of the ambulance when the gurney kicked back and landed on his right leg, breaking it. A plate and eight screws were needed to repair it and he couldn’t drive for eight or ten weeks.

Transition

Throughout the years, Lohr has had 23 “bosses,” as supervisors have come and gone. He’s also worked with several former county sheriffs, including Paul Sheers, Tim Holden, Francis McAndrew and Dan Grow, as well as current Sheriff Joseph Groody.

Schuylkill County Detective Dennis Clark worked with Lohr for nearly a decade, from when Clark entered the Hegins Township force in 1992, and has known the chief for years. He said Lohr had a good rapport with his staff and was “always there for the public.”

“He always had the staff’s respect,” Clark said. “He did his work and tried to get as much done as he could. He’s a good guy who deserves his retirement. The years have worn on him.”

Initially, there were three part-time officers in Hegins Township, then in 1995, Lohr got a grant. Then they had three full-time and six part-time officers.

“I had got a few grants for three or four years. We had a contract with Hubley Township to provide police services. And then there were grants available, because we had an inter-municipal agreement. So there was extra money available for that. Back in 1995, we got a COPS grant, which paid for an additional, full-time officer for three years,” he said.

Hegins Township paid to have the full-time officer on for one more year after the grant, but then ended the contract with Hubley Township and dropped the extra full-timer in 1999. Today, there are two full-time police officers, including Lohr, and four part-time. Sgt. Beau Yarmush was named the new chief, upon Lohr’s retirement. The township still hasn’t found a replacement for Yarmush’s position.

Vicious cycle

“Municipalities just keep cutting back and cutting manpower. The biggest change has been with the judicial system. They keep trying to get more and more out of police with less money and less benefits. Between budget cuts and the judicial system, you can see what’s happening with society. The less hours you’re out on the street, the more things happen. It is just a vicious cycle. Then with our liberal court system and the laws anymore, it’s just a revolving door, and there’s very little deterrent anymore.

“We can enforce the law, but what happens after that is out of our control. People’s attitudes have changed. Everybody thinks they’re entitled. It used to not be that way. People were appreciative when you’d help them out. Most times, you’re dealing with all the bad news. Everybody looks for us for an answer, and we don’t have an answer for everything.

“More things have become civil, rather than criminal. And I really think it’s a convenience to keep processing them through. You make drug arrests, and they end up with a disorderly conduct, and a slap on the wrist. They talk about the heroin epidemic. They keep giving them Narcan and bringing them back, over and over and over. They make it easier for them to use drugs. Hopefully, the taxpayers are getting tired of it. It costs a lot of money. You’ve seen the past two years with our drug round-ups how many people were caught. We’re talking felony sales of hard drugs, but there’s no punishment, with bail and so forth,” Lohr said.

He said people are often released on their own recognizance, with not a penny posted; or unsecured bail, with zero going back into the system.

Lohr said the central booking used in the county has helped with processing efficiency, but does have its downside.

“It saved time, but, in the same token, it was an opportunity to spend some time with these people, after you arrested them. Maybe you had a DUI and a drunk. Most times with a domestic, one or both of them were drunk. You got to see them a week or two later when they came in to get fingerprinted, and then you got to hold their hand. When you get up close, and you’re fingerprinting somebody, your talking with them, and you try to find out what’s going on. A lot of times, people are still friends with me today who I took through the process. I tried to treat them all the same. Things happen in their lives and things get out of hand. Especially this time of year; and a month after Christmas when all the credit cards come due. End of January, beginning of February, domestics rise.

“It took some of the personal side of policing away by having them do it. It does work, it does save us some time, but you’re losing that personal contact. Your central booking is your fingerprinting. Before that came to be, they had to come in here, call and make an appointment. You physically fingerprinted them here. It gave you maybe 45 minutes or an hour with the person. They’re coming in sober now, and you were dealing with them when they were drunk. Most come in and they’re ashamed and apologetic. I see it all the time. You didn’t know what you were saying. You just don’t take things personally, because a drunk is a drunk is a drunk. They’re going to say ugly things.”

Dealing with the youth in the community has been the most rewarding aspect of his job, Lohr said.

“They are our future. Saturday night, I came out and did the Santa parade. That was kind of my thing all these years. If we went shopping, or whatever, I always had to be back for the Santa parade. It was a must for me. The young kids, if I stopped at Top Star or in town, all the young kids wave at me and say, ‘Hi, Stevie.’ A couple of young ones up in Hegins stepped out on the road and yelled, ‘Stevie, Stevie.’ I just really enjoy working with the young kids.”

Lohr, and his wife, Patti, have one daughter, Brittany, and live in the Schuylkill County’s west end. He said in his retirement, he’ll be catching up on projects on his farm.

 
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