On this day, the safe in Paul Ferm’s office has a state police evidence seal on it. Ferm needs to get in there, but he has to hook up with the state police officer who has the combination, something that has proved tricky to orchestrate.
“I have a myriad of roadblocks and issues that we’re working through,” said the new police chief in South Pymatuning Township, Pa.
Ferm, 59, who lives in Brookfield, is starting from “less than scratch” to rebuild the South Pymatuning Township Police Department, which supervisors shut down in February after an independent investigator found irregularities in equipment handling, procedures and practices.
The job pulled Ferm out of retirement.
“This was just a challenge that I thought, ‘You know, this got my name on it,’” Ferm said.
Ferm’s career in police work started in Brookfield in 1978, when he was hired as a dispatcher in the days before 911.
“Once I started working there, I started to fall in love with the business,” he said.
Then-Police Chief Ernie Cook sponsored Ferm’s attendance at the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office Police Academy. Ferm worked as a part-time policeman in Brookfield until he was hired full-time by the Grove City (Pa.) Police Department.
“Right around that time, that’s when all the steel mills were shutting down, the public service was getting cut,” he said. “I started looking around and knew I had to look outside the area.”
In 1985, he started work in Coral Springs, Fla. He was involved in many aspects of police work while there: road patrolman, street crimes tactical unit member, general assignment detective, robbery/homicide unit detective, road shift supervisor, internal affairs supervisor, sex-crimes/child abuse cases supervisor and robbery/homicide unit supervisor.
He retired as a sergeant in 2011 and moved back to Brookfield, buying the historic home on the square from the Madasz family, to spend more time with his parents and sisters, and destress from years of working high-pressure jobs in police work.
The winters started getting to him, though.
“I’m not an outside person in the wintertime,” said Ferm, who got acclimated to mild Florida winters. “I was going stir crazy, so I took a part-time job. I was selling motor sports stuff. I worked a couple days a week.”
Then, he heard about the South Py job. He wasn’t the first candidate hired, but that hire backed out right away for health reasons.
Starting work June 10 on a five-year contract, Ferm has had to hire employees; write policies and procedures; procure equipment; meet with the key law enforcement players, including the district attorney, the coroner and officials at neighboring departments; and look for organizations that could donate money or equipment for items that are necessary, but outside the budget. Ferm noted he has secured donations of trauma kits, stop-the-bleed packs and narcotics field-testing kits from the U.S. Deputy Sheriffs Association.
As of this writing, the department had not taken its first shift – state police continue to have jurisdiction – but he had hired one full-time officer with a couple of good prospects yet to be met with, and could envision shifts starting within weeks.
Once Ferm gets into the safe, he will have access to three machine guns that he plans to trade for department-issue handguns.
“There’s no need to have three fully automatic machine guns here in South Pymatuning,” he said, noting that, in Coral Springs, only special weapons guys had them.
South Py will have department-issued handguns.
“I opened up storage lockers in the back,” Ferm said. “There must be 15 different types of handgun ammunition back there because everybody used their own gun, which is all well and good until you come across, God forbid, the day when you have a little bit of a sustained fire fight with somebody and you ask your buddy to toss you some ammunition and it doesn’t fit your gun.”
On top of all that, Ferm has to get recertified as a Pennsylvania police officer – he took the test July 3 – and qualify for handgun use.
Ferm will not be an office-bound chief.
“I’m pretty much like the chief of Brookfield (Dan Faustino) is,” Ferm said. “I’ve seen him in a car before and he works. That’s where your roots (are), and you don’t want to get away from it. As soon as you start getting away from it, you start living in your vision of how things are, not maybe the real vision of how things are. I like people. I like to go out and meet people.”
Building public trust will be a key job for the initial period of the new department’s operation. He said he wants the department to operate ethically, honestly and with integrity.
“I want people to see us as a professional organization, not just maybe what they had,” said Ferm, who is using the Coral Springs Police Department as a model for many South Py police policies and programs.
Ferm plans to hold public events to meet with people, including meet-and-greets in the township park next to the township building.
“I’m gonna have some doughnuts and coffee. I learned that off my brother-in-law,” he said, referring to Brookfield Trustee Dan Suttles, who holds neighborhood meetings during the warm months of the year.
“Now, they can talk to you,” Ferm said of residents. “They might not always agree with you but, if you’re honest with them, and tell them where you’re coming from, they’ll understand. That’s what they want. They just don’t want someone who’s gonna show up at a meeting and be a talking head. This police department used to be very closed off from everybody. I have an open-door policy here. The only time that door is locked is if I’m not here. Knock, come on in.”