Policing a Community
Requires Building One First

Written by Vera Springett

“To police a community, you must be a part of a community,” is Dr. Joel F. Fitzgerald, Sr.’s motto.

Today he serves as Chief of Police for the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania, and is a graduate of the Doctor of Philosophy in Business Administration program at NCU.

Joel Fitzgerald (Ph.D., Business Administration – Public Administration)

A proven public safety executive with multi-disciplinary, communication and problem-solving skills, Chief Joel has lived by this philosophy throughout his professional and academic career.

He originally planned on becoming a lawyer. But his god brother convinced him otherwise and Chief Joel joined the police academy in 1991, graduated the following year and immediately joined the academy as a police officer in Philadelphia.

“I really enjoyed being a beat cop,” says Chief Joel. “Getting out on the street, getting a sense of what was happening.”

More so, Chief Joel was passionate about building trust within the community he served through immediate response and problem solving rather than fostering a sense of distrust or suspicion, he says. To institute such change, he had to become police chief himself one day.

So he dove into his career—and education. Chief Joel became sergeant in 1998 commanding one of the first mobile mini-stations. Then he joined one of the very first narcotics teams aimed at tackling specific problem areas.

“I really enjoyed being a beat cop."

While he served in narcotics and grew in rank, Chief Joel completed his undergraduate liberal arts degree in 1998 and went on to earn his MBA in Executive Management in 2003. Doing so opened many doors for him.

“I stayed with the narcotics group although I got transferred to another division,” he says. “On the streets I could affect crime and crime rates. It was a prestigious unit—working with ATF, BNI, FBI, ICE and DEA.”

As for challenges of the role, Chief Joel admits there were many.

“You will have dead ends to investigations. But opening a cold case unit was the best feeling,” he says. “Bringing closure to cases for families and victims—I’m most proud of that.”

Soon he married his wife, also a police officer. And together they moved to Missouri City, Texas, where he began his first stint as chief of police—as well as in metrics-based policing. This was Chief Joel’s opportunity to modernize the police force and his first attempt at developing a sense of community in Missouri City.

“Bringing closure to cases for families and victims—I’m most proud of that.”

“I brought in national training, hosted the FBI Academy and others, and upgraded the systems the police force was using,” he says.

He also put more boots on the ground by assigning 80 officers, one to each Homeowners Association (HOA) in Missouri City, to build rapport and open communication between the police and the community.

Today, Chief Joel has put this same methodology to work in Allentown’s community of 118,000. As Chief of Police, he’s deployed 216 police officers to combat burglaries, robberies, and community-related complaints.