By Mary Spicer
Promptly at 3 o’clock this very afternoon, Dave Stefanucci will exit through the doors of Meadville Police Department and begin the rest of his life.
Cake has been cut, and punch has been drunk. With 34 years of service with the department under his belt, the last seven as chief, Stefanucci is retiring.
According to City Manager Joe Chriest, whose powers under Pennsylvania’s Third Class City Code’s Optional Charter Law’s Council-Manager Plan — the official rules under which the city operates — include appointing and removing all city department heads, Assistant Chief Tom Liscinski will be named acting chief, a position Liscinski will hold until his own retirement in September.
Det. Sgt. Eric Young, who Chriest has already named to become chief following Liscinski’s retirement, will serve as the department’s acting assistant chief until the transition is complete.
Since January 1996, when Young joined the force, Stefanucci has played a guiding role in his successor’s career.
“He always gave me great advice when I was a young policeman,” Young recalled during a recent interview. “I was a patrolman and he was a detective sergeant, so I didn’t work hand-in-hand with him, but he was always there and giving me advice. He’s still doing it — he’s been helping me for the last two months.”
Making the transition from street to office has been an interesting experience for Young, who has been a detective for almost a dozen years. From working with the schedule to keeping everyone’s training up-to-date while keeping enough men on the street to maintaining the chain of custody for evidence — “it’s a bigger process than I thought,” Young said.
In both the former city building on Water Street and the city’s new digs on Diamond Park, the administrative offices for the police department have occupied space a floor above the “station house” part of the operation.
As for the guidance he received from above, “The chief and the assistant chief gave you advice on certain cases, but they didn’t stand down there and tell you what to do. They kind of let you be — and let you run with it. But if you had a question, they were right there,” Young explained.
“They were outstanding bosses. But they never put pressure on me to make sure to get a case cleared or to get right on something. It was mainly me, myself, putting my own pressure on me. They were always there supporting the direction I was going.”
“It’s sort of like leaving your family to go somewhere else,” Stefanucci replied when asked what sort of thoughts were going through his head during his last days on the job. “Maybe it’s like you feel when you’re going to leave your family to get married — or when you’re just leaving and you know you’re going to start something new. That’s the feeling I have for it.”
The something new is probably going to involve construction. “Building. Remodeling. That’s what I’ve done,” Stefanucci explained, noting that during his years on police force, he’s built six houses and done quite a bit of remodeling. All the houses except the last — his retirement home at Conneaut Lake — were built before he became chief in November 2005, he added.
He’s also looking forward to continuing to construct the distinctive illuminated Christmas trees — a total of 18 at last count — that he and neighbor Dane Lang have constructed along the shores of Conneaut Lake.
Before he goes, Stefanucci has some advice for young people who may be considering a career in law enforcement.
“If you’re just looking for a job, you don’t want to get into law enforcement,” he said with a smile. “The money isn’t there, but if it’s what you’ve always wanted to do, you should get into it.”
As for preparing for a career in law enforcement, the soon-to-be former chief had some rather unexpected advice.
“If you’re taking English class and you’re thinking, ‘This is ridiculous,’ think again,” Stefanucci said. “It’s learning how to write reports. Spelling. There’s not many cops who know how to spell because they think they don’t really need it so they don’t pay a lot of attention. Focus on that. Pronunciations — anything like that is really going to help them. Nowadays, things have really changed. You may be on the street 10 minutes, but you’re in the office for an hour, doing your reports, going to court, presenting your case. You want to win your case, so that’s important.”
Being a policeman started first with his grandfather and then his mother — and he’s passing the family tradition down through his son, who is already a detective sergeant with the department. “My grandfather made retirement,” Stefanucci said, smiling at the recollection. “I made it. I’m sure Mike’s going to make it. It goes back full circle — if this is what you want to do, it’s a great job.”
The retiring chief is also confident that he’s passing another tradition down through Young.
“I know my successor cares about Meadville — and that’s important,” he said. “First you’ve got to care about the men in the department and their safety. That’s No. 1. That’s the chief’s tool for taking care of Meadville so Meadville can be safe.
“My goal has always been to take care of Meadville,” Stefanucci said. “The men on the police department first, and then Meadville. I hope I’ve done that.”
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.