ST. MARYS — City of St. Marys Police Chief Tom Nicklas says he has seen many changes throughout the past 23 years, but his department’s hard working and passionate officers have remained a constant.
Nicklas is from Spartansburg, and grew up in the Corry Area School District. St. Marys is his father’s hometown, Nicklas says, and he grew up with parents who were both teachers. He now has two daughters and a stepson.
Nicklas has been chief for three years, but spent nine years as a patrolman and 11 as a sergeant before that.
Many things have changed over the last 23 years, Nicklas says, one of the biggest being technology. When he started in police work more than two decades ago, Nicklas recalls handwriting reports and then passing them on to be typed by secretaries.
Electronic fingerprinting and computers and cameras in police cars are among the advancements he has seen. In October, the SMPD is going live with a new records management system.
The department has 15 full-time officers, with most being from the Elk County and the surrounding area, Nicklas says. Officer Brad Harshbarger has been with the SMPD for 38 years.
“We have a lot of young officers with great motivation,” Nicklas said. “They take initiative and want to go out and do a good job. Veteran officers were there to teach them the ground work.”
In some ways, St. Marys reminds Nicklas of where he grew up, since it is similar in size and population to Corry.
“It’s a great place for families to live, and there are a lot of businesses building here,” he said. “People put a lot of hard work into the community.”
Like other police departments, his officers are always on the lookout for drug users and dealers in the area, Nicklas says, with an active Elk County Drug Taskforce.
Like any other town, St. Marys sees its fair share of methamphetamine and heroin issues, and users committing theft to support their habits.
Police initially just looked for alcohol use in driving under the influence (DUI) instances, Nicklas says, another thing he has seen change. Now, substance abuse by drivers is very common and watched for. Officers have undergone Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training, a two-day course provided for law enforcement and other criminal justice professionals.
There are around 100 miles within the city of St. Marys, and a 13,500 population, so the SMPD monitors traffic issues, too, Nicklas adds.
Being chief is “quite a busy job,” Nicklas says, but worth it to have more of a say in the operations of the department and be involved with the city.
“The officers make it worth it,” he said. “People see them in street and in their cars. Managing the training for them is very important to me, so they can do the best work they can out there.”
Nicklas has been working on having the SMPD accredited through the Pennsylvania Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission.
Several SMPD officers play other roles in the community, too, as active group leaders at churches, football coaches and more.
Nicklas says he plans for the SMPD to continue to be present at local events, so the community can interact with police on positive and social levels.