Mark O'Donnell, North Fayette's new police chief, is a familiar figure.
An Oakdale native, West Allegheny graduate and longtime North Fayette resident, Chief O'Donnell steps into his new role after more than 26 years as a full-time township police officer.
As leader, he plans to continue and expand a tradition of the police interacting and connecting with the community.
"There's more to police work than enforcing the laws," Chief O'Donnell said during an interview last week. "That's my philosophy."
Supervisors chose him from three internal candidates to replace Jeffrey Falconer, who retired. Chief O'Donnell began Jan. 1 at an annual salary of $95,700.
"He was what the department needed right now," Chairman James Morosetti said after the December appointment. "We're glad he accepted the job."
Chief O'Donnell said that with numerous ties to the West Allegheny community, he has "a very vested interest" in the welfare of the schools, businesses and citizens and wants to continue the department's positive, service-oriented relationships.
Chief O'Donnell has been a full-time North Fayette officer since 1986, most recently as a sergeant for 10 years. He also coached youth football and baseball in North Fayette for a decade and was board president of the West Allegheny Football Boosters for two years. "Having that bond with the community makes our job easier," he said. "We are all in this together."
Chief O'Donnell noted the importance of communicating with the seven schools in North Fayette -- Parkway West Career and Technology Center; the Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center; Pittsburgh Technical Institute; West Allegheny middle and high schools; McKee Elementary; and Donaldson Elementary.
The chief said he will keep supporting the work of Sgt. John Bates, who for more than 22 years has worked full-time as the West Allegheny school resource officer and D.A.R.E. program coordinator. The township and the school district split the cost of his salary.
"You're developing relationships with the kids," Sgt. Bates said. "That's the key because then, when the kid does have a problem or an issue, they can trust you."
The chief said North Fayette police sponsor a variety of safety programs, participate in youth outreach programs and fundraisers, attend community and sporting events, offer chaplain services, and provide everyday assistance such as checking vacation homes and unlocking car doors.
Within the department, Chief O'Donnell -- an avid runner and golfer -- wants to begin a wellness program for officers.
Chief O'Donnell, 49, and his wife, Cheryl, have lived in North Fayette for more than 20 years. They have two children, Brittney, 22, and Michael, 19.
The chief's parents, Carol and Michael, live in Oakdale. One of his three siblings, Jeff O'Donnell, is a Findlay police officer and former school board member.
A 1981 graduate of West Allegheny High School, Chief O'Donnell began his career with North Fayette police in 1984 as a dispatcher. In 1985, he briefly served as a part-time officer in Oakdale and then was hired as a part-time officer in North Fayette. In 1986, he graduated from the Allegheny County Police Training Academy and became a full-time patrolman.
Chief O'Donnell said he is a handful of credits away from earning a bachelor's degree in the administration of justice from the University of Pittsburgh.
The North Fayette department includes 20 full-time officers, three part-time officers, five dispatchers and a secretary. The 2013 police budget is about $3.44 million.
Chief O'Donnell said he will become eligible for retirement in May but plans to remain chief for at least several years.
"I'm truly blessed to be given this opportunity," he said. "I've inherited a good situation here, and I just want to do my best to make sure the ship stays the course."
Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org