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City’s top drug officer retiring

February 29, 2008
By Mark Leberfinger,
Before he became an Altoona police officer, John McTigue spent his nights “burning steaks and selling beer” at the old Sandwich Saloon at Sixth Avenue and 10th Street.

A group of city officers befriended him as he prepared their meals — minus the beer — on the midnight shift.

“He looked up to us. He showed us respect. He showed that he had a real spark, a real desire to do good,” retired Detective John Closson said this week.

Closson and the other officers urged McTigue to apply for a job.

He did, and the rest is history.

‘‘Once I [was] hired, it was like a light turned on — this is what I was supposed to do,’’ he said. ‘‘I put my heart and soul into this job.”

Twenty-five years later, McTigue is retiring from the Altoona Police Department on top of his game as the city’s lead drug detective. He will be an officer for the Penn State Altoona Police Department starting Saturday.

During the last 18 months, he has led a drug-fighting effort that executed 58 search warrants and chalked up 331 arrests.

“He worked task force cases before he was assigned to narcotics,” Altoona Police Chief Janice Freehling said.

“He became a legend there in just a very short time.”

He is known in the Blair County law enforcement community for his work ethic, his commitment to Altoona and Blair County and his humor.

‘‘John McTigue is like [Gen. George] Patton. He’s a no-nonsense, go-get-’em kind of guy who goes out to win the war if at all possible,’’ District Attorney Richard Consiglio said.

What keeps him going? Gallons of Diet Mountain Dew.

‘‘He almost lives on Mountain Dew. I don’t know when he sleeps,’’ Consiglio said.

McTigue stayed awake 33 hours straight for a June drug operation that ended with arrests in Logan Township. This week, he’s had about four hours of sleep each night.

“From the day I [was] hired, the changes I’ve seen are disheartening with the influx of out-of-town people and the drugs and other big-city problems they bring. Anything I can do to keep this from happening, I will, even if it means four hours’ sleep at night,” he said.

As for McTigue’s humor, that came through where the public couldn’t see it — at the scene of drug raids.

The humor kept officers loose.

“He could lighten the moment, even when things were very serious. But it wouldn’t be to the point of distraction,” Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller said.

McTigue’s greater legacy may not be in the drug fight, but rather in the training of a new generation of police officers. He helped create the city’s field training program — an effort to build upon the police academy training rookie officers receive.

“It’s a big credit for adding to the capabilities of our patrol officers. Our men and women do top-notch work, thanks to this program,” Deputy Chief Mitchell Cooper said.

Retirement will see more chances for a social life outside of law enforcement for McTigue. He says he’ll have more time to play with his toys — a snowmobile, an all-terrain vehicle and water skis — and more time to build a relationship with his girlfriend.

As he starts a new chapter in his life, he is optimistic about the future.

“One door closes and one door opens. I’m not looking for a retirement job. I’m looking at this as a new career. I’ll give the same attention to this job as I did my job in Altoona, and I’m staying in the community,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer Mark Leberfinger is at 946-7462.

Article Photos

(Mirror photo by Mark Leberfinger)
Altoona Sgt. John McTigue, shown in
his office, is retiring today from the Altoona Police Department after serving in several capacities.

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