When I first met Tom Ogden, Mt. Lebanon’s police chief for nearly a decade before he retired in 2008, I was a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter who covered Mt. Lebanon. Even though Mt. Lebanon had very little crime, I found him to be unusually open about what did go wrong here. And by unusually open, I meant he answered my questions truthfully when most police chiefs refused to acknowledge to reporters that their town had any crime at all. Ogden explained to me that coursework he took at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, taught him to speak on the record to reporters because it was important for him to ensure the material we wrote was accurate. If he refused to talk or to acknowledge the truth, the material I might find elsewhere would likely be incorrect and he would have to spend a lot of time on damage control.
One of the next things I did was to sign up for the Mt. Lebanon Citizens Police Academy. I made an offhand remark to the chief on the first day. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was some kind of generalization about how police are overzealous and tended to shoot first and ask questions later. He stopped and said it was an interesting perspective from someone who worked for a company that employed writers who tended to exaggerate and make up news just to sell papers.
I paused. With a laugh, he looked at me and said broad characterizations about each other’s jobs weren’t productive for either of us.
So I shifted my perspective, took the course and learned just how difficult the officers’ job is. And that was 20 years ago. It has gotten even more difficult by increments every day since then. The chiefs who followed Ogden, Coleman McDonough and current Chief Aaron Lauth, put a high priority on open communication with the media and the public as well.
I’m sure you have questions you’d love to ask the police. You’ll get your chance at a new series of casual conversations with members of the department, called Coffee with a Cop, sponsored by the Mt. Lebanon Community Relations Board (click here for details). The officers will not have an agenda or a speech. It’s your opportunity to learn more about the people protecting you.
The free program will begin as soon as possible. It was scheduled for Friday, May 1 from 9 to 11 a.m. at Uptown Coffee, on Washington Road, but has been postponed until later this year due to the COVID-19 emergency. Keep an eye out for information on Coffee with a Cop schedule updates.
They’ll keep a seat open for you. But you’ll get the most out of it if you also bring your open mind.