Coatesville’s new police chief elicits standing ovation

 Flanked by family, he expressed gratitude for outpouring of support

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Chester County Detective Robert Dougherty (left) chats with State Police Major John “Jack” W. Laufer III before Laufer’s swearing-in as Coatesville’s next police chief.

A standing-room-only crowd and a standing ovation marked the beginning of the tenure of Coatesville’s new police chief Monday night.

A week after being approved unanimously by City Council,  State Police Major John “Jack” W. Laufer III was sworn in by Magisterial District Judge Grover E. Koon. Laufer’s wife and two daughters held the Bible as his parents watched from the front row.

Addressing the audience after the ceremony, Laufer acknowledged the roundabout circumstances that brought him back to Coatesville, and he asked people to keep his predecessor, Stephen T. Johnson, and his family in their prayers.

The vote to hire Laufer last week came after a vote to accept the resignation of Johnson, a former deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, who was hired less than two months ago but was unable to perform the job for health reasons.

“I’ve no doubt he would have been a fine chief,” Laufer said of Johnson.

Greg Cary (left), the organizer of Coatesville’s police-search committee, congratulates John “Jack” W. Laufer III on his new position as Coatesville police chief.

Johnson was the second police-chief candidate presented to City Council with glowing recommendations from a highly-regarded search committee. The first candidate was Laufer, who withdrew his name from consideration after a contentious council meeting in which he failed to be approved. Although the vote was 3-1 to hire him, it did not pass because it did not constitute a majority of the seven-member group.

Among the people that Laufer singled out for thanks were members of the search committee, several of whom attended the swearing-in, including Greg Cary, a Peco executive and former Caln Township police officer; East Whiteland Township Police Chief Eugene Dooley, a former homicide division chief for the Philadelphia Police Department; and Jack Crans,  chaplain of Chester County Prison and founder of Coatesville’s City Gate Mission and County Corrections Gospel Mission.

Laufer also expressed gratitude to City Manager Kirby Hudson for reaching out to him after it became clear that Johnson would have to resign, and to City Council for its unanimous approval.

He also said he appreciated the mass support from the “extended family” of the Chester County law-enforcement community  coupled with that of his own family. In addition to Laufer’s wife, parents, and daughters, his sister, brother-in-law and nephew were among the well-wishers. About a dozen uniformed troopers lined the back of the room. They were joined by Coatesville police officers and multiple representatives from the county detectives, District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Crime Victims’ Center, and numerous other police departments.

John “Jack” W. Laufer III (right) accepts congratulations after being sworn in as Coatesville’s next police chief from South Coatesville Police Chief Lew Wilson.

Finally, Laufer said he was looking forward to working with residents. Citing Sir Robert Peel, a British statesmen who pioneered the concept of community policing in the 1820s, Laufer said “the police are the public and the public are the police.” He said he envisioned a partnership that would benefit everyone. His remarks drew loud applause and brought everyone to their feet.

Laufer, who has received numerous accolades during his career with the state police, made headlines for his heroics before he became a trooper. 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, who spent much of his police career working in Chester County,  headed 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.  Laufer was widely praised for his handling of the tragedy.

Most recently, he has directed the state police Bureau of Training and Education, overseeing new recruits.

Laufer said he will begin working in Coatesville on Saturday, the day after he retires from the state police. He said he decided against taking a break. “The city has been without a chief too long,” he said. “I want to get started.”

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  1. How are you going to evaluate your new chief and the department? What will be your criteria? And perhaps one or more of the four major obstacles arresting police is holding back your department? For more about this and other improvement issues, follow my blog at Let’s remember that those police officers who serve in a democracy must be men and women who are highly-educated, well-trained, controlled in their use of force, honest, courteous to every person, closely in touch with their community, and led by mature leaders. Is that your police? If not, find out what you can do about it.

    • Matt Baker says:

      Re: Police Chief D. Cooper – sounds like more of plug for your website then actual comments.

  2. I’m not saying they were unresponsive in the past but we may get better cooperation between State Troopers and Coatesville Police now.

    • Me says:

      We Better? You are seriously out of your mind. Be Happy you have a Chief who is willing to wirk in that God Forsaken Place, stop pushing your luck.

  3. Mike says:

    We the citizens of coatesville are so rewarded to have a police chief as high caliber as Major Laufer. Thanks for giving the good citizens another chance. Maybe you can change the direction of the city from drugs and violence. If you are working on the weekends make sure your police officers are working too.

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