FOLCROFT — The three newly promoted commanding police officers, two full-time patrol hires – including the first woman officer in the history of the borough – and the widely celebrated “Delco Legend” himself, as well as the recently retired chief-turned-councilman have something in common. They all agree that serving the borough is more than just a job.
“It’s like a calling,” said Robert “Rogo” Ruskowski. Just weeks after he retired Aug. 31 as chief of the Folcroft Police Department, Ruskowski was sworn in on Sept. 25 as a Republican councilman, appointed to fill the unexpired term of Michelle Rafter, who resigned last month.
Combined with Ruskowski, newly promoted Chief William Bair, Deputy Chief Christopher Eiserman, Cpl. Daniel White, and full-time Officers Leslie McLean and Christopher Dorman have recorded more than 120 years of police service, and counting.
Looking back on his 42 years with the police department, 14 as chief, Ruskowski said his best and worst days on the job had one person in common: Christopher Dorman.
“My worst was when Dorman was shot,” Ruskowski said. “My best was when I was told that he was going to be OK. I was really afraid we were going to lose him.”
It was two years on June 24 since Dorman was ambushed and shot seven times at point-blank range, including a shot to the face. Then-Sgt. Bair rushed his wounded comrade to a nearby hospital.
Ruskowski was on vacation and two hours away when he got word from then-Sgt. Eiserman.
“I think it was everyone’s worst day. It was mine for sure,” recalled Eiserman.
“I had the ride home to prepare for the worst,” Ruskowski said. “I was at the hospital when word came down that Dorman was going to be OK … the range of emotions was unbelievable.”
Dorman, who became known as #Delcolegend when an image of him in a hospital gown with his thumbs up was posted on Twitter, was back to work four months later.
A natural leader
It was standing room only in the Folcroft firehouse on Sept. 25 as the borough’s changing guard took their oaths of office.
“It became clear to us that Bill was the right one to follow in Rogo’s footsteps,” Folcroft Council President Jason McGuigan said. “He put a lot of hard work in, is very intelligent and respected by all.”
A 23-year-veteran, Bair, 47, has a degree in criminal justice from Mansfield University. He is also a certified instructor for the Delaware County Community College Municipal Police Academy (DCCCMPA) and is known for his leadership skills.
As chief, Bair’s salary is about $106,000.
“I never thought I would be here in this spot,” he said. Rising through the ranks from part-time officer, full-time officer, juvenile officer, SWAT, investigator to corporal to sergeant and now chief, Bair said he always tried to be a role model for the younger officers in the department.
A standout athlete at both Ridley High School and Mansfield University, it was a university coach that suggested he take courses in law enforcement. Bair knew he found his niche because the class work came easily to him.
“I was spending a third of the time studying and still getting good grades,” he said. In his junior year, he landed an internship with the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division.
When it came time to look for a job, the lifelong Ridley Park resident credits his dad for directing him to Folcroft.
“He knew Ed Christie,” Bair said of the former chief who hired him as a part-timer in 1994.
Bair, who along with Eiserman held pivotal supervisory roles as corporals and then sergeants for the last five years, expects a pretty seamless transition.
“There will be more pressure but I know I have a department filled with good officers to ease some of that pressure,” he said.
Looking ahead, he would like to see officers more involved in the community.
“It’s good when the kids know your name. It’s the kids who don’t wave to you that you have to worry about,” he said. “I don’t want people to be afraid to talk to us.”
Duty to serve
Born and raised in Folcroft, Eiserman, 42, is a 1994 graduate of Academy Park High School. Working as a 911 dispatcher out of high school, he was hired as a part-time officer in 1997. He was hired full time following the death of Officer Nick DeLuca, a thorough investigator whom Eiserman tried to emulate.
‘I just always felt a duty to serve,” Eiserman said. He joined the Sharon Hill Fire Department as a junior firefighter, and rose to president. He is now a life member.
“Chris was the FOP rep,” McGuigan told those gathered at the firehouse. “He always had his members’ best interests at heart, but kept in mind we are representing the taxpayers in Folcroft. I always thought he took his duties seriously. Chris is also very involved in community events.”
The newly created deputy chief’s position pays about $103,000. Eiserman will oversee anti-crime, K-9, investigations, Information Technology and fleet maintenance.
“I am thrilled. This is what I have worked for. To be second in command of the police department is second to none,” Eiserman said. “I think we have the best police department in Delaware County. I think that was obvious when Dorman was shot.”
Eiserman, whose first order of business was to thank the officers, said he was looking forward to continuing the work that he and Bair started as a team five years ago.
He added, “I worked for two of the best chiefs I could ask for, Ed Christie and Rogo.”
Among the unsolved cases that Eiserman would like to see solved is one involving 90-year-old Jeffrey Hart, who has been missing since May 1995.
White always admired that his dad, the late George White, was as devoted to the people of Folcroft as they were to him. It’s a character trait he has tried to emulate.
“I love giving back to the community,” he said.
“Dan established The Folcroft Police Christmas Fund, which has helped a lot of families,” said McGuigan. “He is the kind of officer that the residents know his name. They know Danny and know he helps them out. He has been there for the community.”
Noting that his dad was an arson investigator, White, 44, said he was always fascinated and interested in all things pertaining to the law. He was hired as a part-time Folcroft officer in 1999 and promoted to full-time in 2004. He is also involved with the Folcroft Fire Department and is on its Board of Directors.
With Bair’s promotion to chief, White is now handling all police investigations. He is also the juvenile officer.
“I always wanted to be a detective,” he said.
The corporal’s position pays about $85,000.
McLean had no idea she was making Folcroft history as the first full-time female police officer. All she knew is that after raising two daughters and serving 14 years as a part-time officer, it was time to continue her path to fulfill her professional dream.
She knew since seeing a photograph of a woman sitting outside the San Ysidro McDonald’s and a police officer in the background following the mass shooting in 1984 what she wanted to do.
“I remember telling my dad I wanted to be a police officer,” said McLean.
McLean, 40, grew up in southwest Philadelphia and graduated from John Bartram High School in 1996. She went on to earn an associate’s degree in finance from PJA School and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Chestnut Hill College. She graduated from the DCCCMPA in 2003. A year later, she was hired as a part-time officer in Folcroft. She was recently certified as a hostage negotiator and will begin on the Delaware County Emergency Response team this month. She previously worked as a clerk in Yeadon District Court and the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.
“There is not enough you can say about Leslie for the work she has done as an officer,” McGuigan said. “At least three or four times a year, we heard how Leslie took down somebody. She’s a great police officer and it’s a big honor to be able to bang the gavel for the first woman to be named full time in Folcroft’s history.”
It was her dad, Lou Defosse, who held the Bible as she took the oath. She will continue working the night shift with her partner, veteran K-9 Officer Eugene Mackey.
“I love where I work. It’s an awesome town. People have been here for generations,” she said. “They entrust me to keep the town together and I take a lot of pride in that,” she said.
Two of her relatives, including her grandfather, Martin Matthews, were officers in Upper Darby.
“I carry my pop-pop’s badge in my badge holder … to keep an eye on me,” she said.
Dorman, 28, was born and raised in Folcroft. He, too, is a graduate of Academy Park and the DCCCMPA. At 16, he joined the Folcroft Fire Department and served as assistant chief. He currently sits on the first company’s board of directors.
He was hired as a part-time Folcroft officer in 2005. He has also worked for the Millbourne Police Department and the county Sheriff’s Office.
“It is always something I wanted to do, especially in the town I grew up in,” Dorman said of police work. “I love the job now as much as I always did.”
McGuigan said the way Dorman handled himself after the shooting was remarkable.
Dorman, who accumulated numerous commendations, awards and other notoriety after the shooting, has always downplayed the attention.
But he always represented the police department with great pride, and expressed thanks for the tremendous support, and especially those who rushed to his aid.
The full-time officer's salary in Folcroft is about $80,000.
Prior to the naming of the new chief, Ruskowski was presented a retired officers’ badge and plaque by the department.
Ruskowski, 60, grew up in Clifton Heights, graduated from Monsignor Bonner in 1976 and started his police career at age 19.
He began his career in Folcroft as a patrolman in 1977 and later as a traffic safety officer, corporal, detective and then chief.
“I left the police department with mixed emotions … but it was time,” Ruskowski said, noting that he entered the Deferred Retirement Option Program five years ago.
“It was an honor to serve,” he said.
Growing up, he looked up to two relatives in law enforcement, Norwood Officer Larry Wiker and Radnor Officer Robert Adams. Plus, his mother was secretary for the Clifton Heights Police Department.
“It all seemed so interesting to me,” he said.
Rising through the ranks, his interest never waned. His responsibilities were always changing.
Of course, an all-time highlight was the day he made chief.
“I never thought it would happen, but I hoped,” he said.
Moving forward, Councilman Ruskowski will serve as chairman of the police committee. He said he wouldn’t have accepted the council position had he not enjoyed such strong support from borough leaders during his tenure as chief.
“They treat us like family. If I can be a part of that, and see that the officers are continued to be treated that way, I’m excited to be part of it,” he said.