Middletown swears in fourth police chief since 2012

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In the midst of a revolving door of management in Middletown's police department, the borough has hired a fourth, and hopefully final, police chief.

Steven Wheeler, a 29-year veteran of the state attorney general's office, was sworn in on Friday afternoon. He most recently worked as chief of investigations under Attorney General Linda Kelly, but was released when Kathleen Kane took office in January.

Wheeler replaces Detective Mark Hovan, who stepped down as chief in January after only six months on the job. He has not spoken publicly about why he suddenly resigned, but remains on the police force as a criminal investigator.

Borough spokesperson Chris Courogen said Wheeler was selected because of his high level of experience in law enforcement, as well as his resources in other departments. He said his status as an outsider will play a key role in turning this police department around.

“When you're close to something, it's hard to see the things that need to be fixed,” Courogen said. “You get comfortable in situations, so sometimes that fresh perspective can really make a difference.”

Wheeler, who will earn $72,000 a year, said outdated policies and aging equipment will be among the first issues he plans to tackle.

“There's a perception that the police department isn't as responsive and effective as it can be, and I say there's a perception because I think we haven't done a good job in selling the positive aspects of the department to the community,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he understands coming in from the outside will be a challenge, but it's one he welcomes.

“When you don't share the culture of the organization and you come in from the outside, it's something you have to learn. Respect is earned and I expect that I will do things that will earn the respect of the officers of this department,” he said.

For now, Wheeler will commute in a take-home vehicle from his home in New Bloomfield, but Courogen said the borough's residency requirement calls for him to move within the first 15 months on the job.

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