A pop song by the group Semisonic says that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.
The beginning of Northampton Township Police Department Chief Michael B. “Barry” Pilla Jr.’s retirement signals the end of a more than four-decade career in law enforcement. On July 1st, he’ll step down as Chief and Lieutenant Mike Clark will take command.
Had he traveled routes he considered as a kid growing up, he might be retiring as Father Pilla “which quickly went out the door when I entered my teens,” he said, or M. Barry Pilla Jr., Esquire.
He hoped to find a career where he could meet people and help others. He had an uncle who was an officer, which helped him decide to follow that path.
Before becoming a policeman, Chief Pilla served in the Army in Vietnam. When he came home, in the early 1970s, he became an officer for the Middletown Township Police Department. A few years later, his brother, Richard, was killed in a car accident. Chief Pilla quit the force to assist his self-employed plumber father in his business.
“I told him ‘I’m going to resign from the police department and work with you,’” he said. “As much as I owe to the community I work for, my family comes first.”
The Chief and his dad worked together for a couple years and then Barry was hired by Northampton in 1976. Chief Pilla, who served as Patrol Officer, Youth Aid Officer, Detective, Administrator, Lieutenant, and finally Chief, is a firm believer in crime prevention. Creating a proactive department with community involvement has been his focus.
He instructed his patrol officers get out of their cars to meet members of the community, to go into businesses, to let people get to know and trust them (it worked – people come up to the Chief in the grocery store and other places just to talk). He made it his policy that anyone who called with information or complaints always received a return call. And he believed in the department and community working together, to have the public as additional eyes and ears for his officers.
To that end, he instituted an e-mail alert system for suspicious activity in the area (that system began with faxes in the pre-Internet days).
“I wanted people to feel safe and comfortable,” he said.
He feels comfortable with his retirement decision, though it was the most difficult of his life. He has watched many men and women become fine professionals and “it’s like watching your children grow,” he said. “It’s difficult to just walk away from that.”
But it’s time. At 65, Chief Pilla goes to the gym three days a week, “but I’m not 22,” he said.
That reality aided his decision. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his daughter, Lindsey, and wife, Fran.
He knows he’ll stay connected by visiting the department sometimes. He might have a second career, connected to law enforcement possibly or as a teacher. He volunteers driving a parking lot shuttle at St. Mary Hospital, which he enjoys.
“I get to talk to all sorts of people,” he said.
He knows he’s leaving the community in good hands.
“I have complete faith in the men and women of our police department. They won’t skip a beat,” he said.
Chief Pilla said he once he leaves, he won’t look back.
“I feel really good about this decision. I have been blessed in the fact that I could work in a profession that I truly love with some of the finest men and women I’ve had the opportunity to meet in my life,” he said. “I think I’m just going to relax and see what life has to offer. You never know what’s on the next page until you turn it.”
PHOTO CAP: Northampton Township Police Chief Pilla