Penn Twp.'s police chief retires after 35 years of service

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Penn Township residents knew they could count on Police Chief Jim Laughlin to listen to their opinions and prioritize their concerns, according to the township's new top cop.

Laughlin, 60, retired from the department Friday, April 6, after 35½ years on the job — the last six of them as chief.

Penn Twp. Police Chief Jim Laughlin retired on Friday, April 6, 2018, after serving with the department for more than 35 years, the last six as chief.

Asked how residents have responded to news of Laughlin's retirement, acting Chief Guy Hettinger said common themes have emerged.

"The biggest thing they're going to miss is his approachability," said Hettinger, a 25-year officer with the department who became lieutenant in 2013. He was named acting chief after Laughlin retired.

"One thing most people have said right off the bat is, they're going to miss his smile," Hettinger said. "He has a warm, glowing smile that puts everyone at ease."

Hettinger said he intends to make sure residents feel just as comfortable approaching him.

He also said he will continue holding his officers to the rigorous professional standards required for the department to remain a state-accredited police agency — a designation attained under Laughlin's tenure.

"He wanted everybody to give their best effort, no matter what," Hettinger said.

Didn't settle: On a daily basis, Laughlin pushed officers to "choose" to have a good attitude and to never settle for less than doing their best work, according to Hettinger.

Laughlin encouraged officers to make good decisions on their own and gave them the training needed to do so, the acting chief said.

"He wanted forward-thinking supervisors and officers who could make decisions on the fly for the betterment of everybody — not a bunch of robots," Hettinger said.

To that end, Laughlin pushed technology advances and training for the department and was successful in getting dashboard video cameras installed in township cruisers around fall 2017, according to Hettinger.

Laughlin believed the cameras were a way to show citizens that his officers were acting professionally and appropriately, Hettinger said.

'Well-run' department: The Penn Township Police Department currently has 20 uniformed officers and is looking to hire two more to reach its full complement of 22, he said.

"We have a very stable, well-run department," thanks in large part to Laughlin's wisdom, compassion, leadership and dedication, according to Hettinger.

"One of the things I learned from him as a sergeant was, don't make decisions in haste," he said. "You've got to step back and take the emotional equation out of it."

Laughlin is married, with adult children, and grew up in Greensburg, Westmoreland County, Hettinger said.

Both Laughlin and Hettinger were hired by Penn Township Police after attending York College, the acting chief said.

"He was very grateful to the residents of Penn Township for all the support they gave," Hettinger said. "He always put the citizens first when he made any decisions."

Hunter, tinkerer: Now that he's retired, Laughlin, who enjoys hunting, is expected to spend more time outdoors, according to the acting chief.

"He also loves to tinker and work around his house, fixing things and improving things," Hettinger said.

Hettinger, 51, said he intends to continue Laughlin's work and also has "ideas of my own I'd like to try."

He said he's both excited and honored to succeed Laughlin, who could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday, April 9.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.