Police force seeing positive growth
2014 has been a year of change for Lawrence Township police chief Mark Ubry.
It all began as 2013 drew to a close, and former police chief Dan Posluszny prepared for retirement. Then a senior lieutenant, Ubry was appointed by township manager Richard Krawczun to serve as acting chief until a permanent replacement was made. The opportunity surprised him but also got him thinking.
“I never aspired to be chief,” Ubry said. “I never, ever thought I wanted to be chief. In fact, I was kind of shocked when it happened.”
As he considered the opportunity before him, Ubry began to think about one of the reasons he most enjoys being a police officer—he wanted to help people. And this promotion would give him even more opportunities to do just that.
In August, he was named the official police chief, with a formal swearing in ceremony held by the township Sept. 2.
A lifelong Lawrence resident, Ubry grew up on Cold Soil Road where he, along with his parents and sister, Jill, worked on the family farm, growing crops such as soybeans, wheat and corn.
He attended the Lawrence Township School District, graduating from what was then the senior high school in 1982. In 1992, he married at Lawrence Presbyterian. He and his wife have three children: a 20-year-old son and twin 16-year-old girls.
Ubry, 50, began his career with the Lawrence Township police more than 25 years ago working as a dispatcher.
He graduated from the Trenton Police Academy in December 1988 and began working as a patrolman. From there, he was promoted to detective and by 1999 was working the midnight shift as a junior sergeant, which proved to be an eye opening experience, Ubry said.
“When I first started as a patrolman, I didn’t realize that maybe I led a sheltered life,” he said. “I didn’t realize what was really out there from growing up in the woods and the fields and everything I knew in north Lawrence.”
At that time, the township still had issues with the Trent Motel, the Trenton border and even drug use and car thefts. Ubry found that the midnight shift was when some of the more serious calls and interesting characters would be out around town.
“I learned not everybody is good. People lie to the police,” he said. “I think I’ve become good at being able to read people. When I first started I was clueless…and now I think I’ve become a good judge of people and judge of character.”
In 2001, Ubry was promoted to lieutenant, and took on the position of patrol division commander, which until then was a position that had always been held by a captain. In 2005, he became the investigation division commander.
Now, with a year under his belt as chief of police, Ubry is working to keep the police department moving in a positive direction and tackle some of the challenges the department has faced in recent years. And so far, those efforts seem to be successful.
Ubry said the township is on track to have a reduced crime rate from last year, though the results won’t be final until the data from November and December 2014 is recorded.
One of the challenges Ubry knew he’d be taking on as chief was the drop in manpower the department had seen in recent years.
The department had maintained a stable number of about 70 officers. But in recent years, due to changes in pension and health care policies, the department had seen a drop in numbers due to retirements and eliminating positions, with the number of officers at one point sinking to 47.
One area that has suffered because of the low numbers, Ubry said, is the department’s ability to have officers present for community events, like homeowners’ association meetings and other opportunities where they can interact with specific areas of the community. Now, he said, limited manpower hasn’t allowed as much opportunity as he’d like for officers to dedicate that time, with the department instead sending over statistics and information because an officer was not available.
So, for the past year, Ubry’s main goal was to increase the manpower numbers in the department. By the end of 2014, the department had made 10 new hires and seen 8 promotions, including Ubry’s promotion to chief.
Ubry also encouraged everyone in the department to play a role in the process.
“One of the things we did this year was try to get everyone in the police department involved in the hiring process,” he said. “Everybody from the patrolmen through detectives through the supervisors. To have 10 police officers hired at one time is something that [has] never been done before.”
Lieutenant Charles Edgar, who joined the Lawrence Police Department shortly after Ubry nearly 25 years ago, agreed that the department is moving in a good direction and has adapted well to the change in leadership.
“Mark has spearheaded a lot of changes within the police department with regard to equipment and staffing,” Edgar said. “He’s done a great job over the last year…we’ve had manpower problems with retirements and the like, and with that he’s rallied the troops, and they’re working harder than ever with less manpower. Morale is up.”
Other changes Ubry hopes to implement are upgrades to technology, with the most immediate plans for high definition cameras installed in all patrol cars. There had previously been cameras installed in the cars, but the technology had become outdated.
“The officers have really embraced the issues presented to them this year. Trenton, which we border to the south, continues to have some violent crime. We’ve been able to assign officers to initiatives down there,” he said, noting that officers have been assigned to the Mercer County Homicide Task Force, Shooting Response Team and Mercer County Narcotics Response Team.
Along with updating technology, Ubry also hopes the department can work to be more proactive in the community, such as addressing any patterns of activity before they turn into problems to help keep crime down.