Medical issues led to resignation, said city manager, who has back-up plan
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
Less than a month after his swearing-in, Coatesville Police Chief Stephen T. Johnson has announced his resignation, citing health reasons, said City Manager Kirby Hudson.
Hudson said he spoke Monday morning with Johnson, a former deputy commissioner in the Philadelphia Police Department, about the difficult decision, which was not totally unexpected. Hudson said he had been aware of medical issues that might prevent Johnson from fulfilling his contract for several weeks – information that prompted him to prepare a back-up plan.
“The city has been in strong dialogue with Jack Laufer, and he is interested in the position,” Hudson said. Hudson said a vote could come as early as Wednesday’s reorganization meeting – if enough City Council members are present.
State Police Major John “Jack” W. Laufer confirmed Monday that he had been approached by the city. “I would be interested given the unfortunate turn of events for Johnson and the City,” he said.
Laufer was initially presented to City Council in September as the top candidate for the job after a search was conducted by a high-profile committee led by Greg Cary, a PECO Energy executive and a former supervisory police officer in Caln Township.
A vote to approve Laufer came at the end of a contentious, 3½-hour meeting on Sept. 10 with only four City Council members present. It resulted in a 3-1 tally, which failed because it did not represent a majority of the seven-member council. In casting the dissenting vote, Councilwoman C. Arvilla Hunt cited the city’s red ink, and Laufer subsequently withdrew his name from consideration.
Several City Council members expressed disappointment at the outcome; however, an effort to get Laufer to reconsider came up short. The search committee was reconvened, resulting in Johnson’s selection and a 6-0 vote to approve him in mid-November.
Hudson said that he was “guardedly optimistic” that Laufer would be approved this time and that he anticipated his swearing-in would occur on Jan. 14. Hudson said a vote would be scheduled for Wednesday if most council members were present. Otherwise, the vote and the swearing-in would both happen on Jan. 14, Hudson said.
Multiple members of law enforcement who requested anonymity expressed frustration when Laufer was not hired in September, suggesting that the city, in desperate need of strong police leadership, had been fortunate that he applied. They said the city was incredibly lucky that a second candidate with stellar credentials surfaced.
Laufer’s numerous heroics began even before he became a police officer, according to published reports. In 1985, he was shopping at the Springfield Mall when he disarmed Sylvia Seegrist, a paranoid schizophrenic who had opened fire, killing three and wounding seven others. Six months later, the former construction worker became a cadet with the state police, working his way up the ranks.
Laufer was the commander of the Lancaster state police barracks the day that Charles Roberts bound 10 young girls at the West Nichol Mines School and then opened fire, killing five; once again, Laufer was lauded for his handling of the tragedy. Most recently, he has directed the state police Bureau of Training and Education, overseeing new recruits.
The police-chief vacancy in Coatesville dates back to July when the city’s former chief, Julius M. Canale, ended his day-to-day contract with the city after taking an early-retirement option in May. Since then, the city has generated criticism for its delay in finding a permanent leader for a department that has been plagued with litigation.
In August, City Council appointed James Bell, a former director of public safety at Cheyney University, as interim chief. That choice prompted a no-confidence vote from the police union because Bell lacked Act 120 certification, which is required to carry a gun or make an arrest. Bell ended his tenure the week after Johnson’s swearing-in.