South Fayette appoints acting chief

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South Fayette acting police Chief John Phoennik said he will focus on teamwork and communication as head of the 14-officer police department.

Mr. Phoennik was promoted Friday from captain to acting chief due to the retirement of Louis Volle.

A 25-year veteran of the township force, Mr. Phoennik said he appreciates the opportunity and is “looking forward to opening up the lines of communication, moving the department forward.”

Commissioners appointed him 4-0, with one member absent.

“We’re looking forward to a new era with the police department here in South Fayette,” board president Joseph Horowitz said. “I think the chief is highly motivated to get things done in the right way.”

Mr. Horowitz said the township hasn’t yet determined a plan for permanently filling the chief job, but Mr. Phoennik will be considered.

“We just had to get someone we trusted in there for now,” he said.

One of the acting chief’s first duties will be to appoint a school resource officer from the police force.

South Fayette Township School District has been awarded a $40,938 state grant from the Safe Schools program toward the cost of a police officer to work full-time on campus for at least two school years.

Township attorney Jonathan Kamin said the officer could be in place before the end of the month.

Excess costs of the program will be split between the school and the township, he said.

Commissioners last week voted to accept the grant and establish the position, pending a final agreement with the school district.

The South Fayette school board voted 9-0 Tuesday to approve the agreement.

Mr. Phoennik, 50, lives in South Fayette with his wife, Shelley, and three children who attend South Fayette schools.

He was an officer for three years in North Fayette, Bridgeville and Heidelberg before joining South Fayette 25 years ago.

He has been a captain — the highest rank below chief — since 2000,

The majority of the South Fayette police officers attended the April 16 meeting for Mr. Phoennik’s appointment.

“These guys came down here in support, took time out of their day to come here and show support, so thank you very much,” Mr. Phoennik said.

After more than 30 years with South Fayette police and about a dozen years as chief, Mr. Volle retired under the township’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP. The pension plan allows police officers to accumulate a lump sum of money for retirement by continuing to work after they are eligible to retire with defined benefits. 

Mr. Volle announced about 18 months ago that he planned to retire.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:

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