New State Police commissioner hopes to diversify the ranks

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Colonel Tyree Blocker says it slowly, directly and with great passion in his voice.

“I care deeply for the Pennsylvania State Police,” Blocker said with special emphasis on the word deeply.

Blocker’s love of the institution is obvious. He spent 30 of his 62 years in the ranks of the State Police, so he’s an insider who’s been on the outside for a decade.

Blocker retired from the force ten years ago, but he’s back. And this time, he’s the boss.

The acting police commissioner is reluctant to give specifics on exactly what he intends to do with the PSP. He’s still observing.

“There’s a standard of excellence that we expect from all troopers,” Blocker said during a recent interview.

He obviously has personal standards. He’s a former football star and still very fit.

In 1970, Blocker was an all-Catholic-League runner at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School. He shared that honor that year with John Cappelletti, who went on to become Penn State’s only Heisman Trophy winner.

Blocker got a scholarship to play at Holy Cross. Upon graduation, he became a state policeman, just as the PSP was integrating.

Diversifying its ranks will be one of Blocker’s top jobs and one of the reasons he was selected by Governor Tom Wolf.

“It’s certainly something that’s important to the governor, and it’s important that the State Police reflect the diversity of Pennsylvania,” Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said.

There are 4,322 troopers. Only 258, or 6 percent, of those troopers are minorities. Only 144, or 3 percent, are black.

“We have work to do in that area,” Blocker said matter-of-factly.

It won’t be easy because the PSP has aggressively tried to increase minority enrollment in recent years. The results have been mixed despite intense outreach.

Blocker hopes that young people of color will see him as a role model and join the ranks.

“I fully expect that to happen. I think the Pennsylvania State Police has a great story that isn’t told frequently enough,” he said.

He’s enthusiastic, but not naive. He is an African-American from Philadelphia and he understands the mistrust between minorities and law enforcement in urban areas that have erupted into violence across the country recently.

“As human beings we’re products of our environment,” Blocker said. “The great equalizer there is training, is education. That’s what we plan to do in moving the Pennsylvania State Police forward.

Blocker says training troopers to use their brains is more important than training them to use their guns. He strongly believes that proper training in 21st century policing will keep his force from the pitfalls that have befallen other law enforcement agencies.

“We’re in the people business,” Blocker said. “We have to be able to communicate and communicate effectively.”

Blocker was chosen after Wolf’s first pick, Marcus Brown, failed to earn Senate confirmation. Brown was rejected, in part, because he insisted on wearing the uniform of the State Police even though he never graduated from the PSP academy.

Blocker wore a suit for our sit-down interview.

“It will depend on the day,” Blocker said of his fashion choice. “I have no problems wearing the uniform of the Pennsylvania State Police. I wore it proudly for 30 years and when and where appropriate I will once again proudly wear the uniform of the Pennsylvania State Police.”

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