Altoona police being marred by black eyes
This has not been a good stretch for the Altoona Police Department.
Last Sunday morning, Officer Erik Stirk, who was off-duty, was stopped at 11:19 a.m. on the 700 block of Sixth Avenue and arrested for driving under the influence.
He is expected to be charged with DUI after tests revealed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.257 percent– more than three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent. Staggering, indeed.
On its own, the incident could be considered isolated, but it’s just the latest in a series of missteps by the department.
On June 10, Patrolman Julie Kelleher crashed her police cruiser, an SUV, into another vehicle on Sixth Avenue while racing to a motorcycle accident.
Altoona police reported that Kelleher drove through a red light at Eighth Street on Sixth Avenue at 79 miles per hour prior to colliding with a vehicle driven by John McConnell Jr.
McConnell was cited for driving without a license and driving on a suspended license. Though that mistake didn’t cause this crash, he was obviously in the wrong.
However, driving nearly 80 mph on Sixth Avenue is even more reckless than driving without a license.
Kelleher was cited for running a red light. Can she be cited for poor judgment, too?
The Mirror issued a Right-to-Know request seeking the dashcam video, and after some initial resistance from Altoona Chief Janice Freehling, who said, “there’s no reason to,” the city released the video, and Mayor Matthew Pacifico posted it to his Facebook page.
We give Pacifico credit for transparency and for complying with the public’s right to know, even if Kelleher’s work did not reflect positively on the department.
This isn’t the first time Kelleher has crashed while driving a police vehicle.
On July 5, 2015, she was cited for failure to obey a stop sign at Wopsononock Avenue and Fourth Street, resulting in a crash in a city police SUV. In that incident, Kelleher pleaded guilty and paid $170 in costs and fines.
The cases involving Stirk and Kelleher come during the city’s June 14 firing of Altoona police Sgt. Matthew Starr, who was charged May 9 with 10 felony counts for allegedly cheating the police department out of thousands of dollars to satisfy a gambling habit.
Of these three situations involving police personnel, this is definitely the most appalling.
Starr, who somehow was in a position to approve his own overtime, cashed checks for himself that he had solicited from a fraternal organization for the department, tried to launder money from a local business through a nonprofit organization, falsified information on time cards to indicate he was on the clock during time spent gambling, diverted $7,000 in Community Development Block Grant Funds to himself and temporarily took $3,000 from a GoFundMe he had set up for a sick relative of his girlfriend, according to the charges.
He clearly wasn’t the star of the department.
This pattern of irregularity does not speak well for Freehling and the department and casts a cloud over the many police officers who are a credit to the force.
Just as Pacifico and city officials were right to encourage the release of the dashcam video, their guidance in holding the leadership of the Altoona Police Department more accountable needs to remain a priority.