UPPER DARBY— Michael Chitwood, law enforcement’s biggest celebrity in the Philadelphia region, has announced that he will be retiring as the Upper Darby police superintendent on Dec. 1.

The 75-year-old chief revealed to the press late Thursday that he will be hanging it up as the head of the township’s biggest municipal police department, ending 55 years on the thin blue line.

Chitwood, nicknamed “Media Mike” for his accessibility to the press, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Chitwood’s announcement came two days after a historic election day that flipped the GOP-controlled township Democratic when the party took the mayor’s race and the majority on township council.

According to Mayor Tom Micozzie, he had been discussing with Chitwood about a potential transition to new leadership of the 130-member police department next year had he been elected to a third-term. Micozzie was defeated by Democratic Councilwoman Barbarann Keffer.

“If I won we would start transitioning and moving on,” said Micozzie Friday afternoon. “At that point I didn’t have a set date. He could have stayed as long as he wanted to. I think he wants to go out on top and this is the time for him to get out. This change, with what’s happening, he decided to make an announcement.”

Micozzie added that the Democrats’ victories on Tuesday just sped up Chitwood’s decision.

“It’s a new administration. Politics change everything. Elections have consequences and people are moving on,” he said. “It’s a loss in Upper Darby.”

Keffer called “Media Mike’s” decision to go to the press to make his retirement announcement interesting. She said she only heard of the news when the Delco Times and others started to text her about it after midnight Friday.

“I respect Chitwood’s decision to retire to allow the incoming administration to select his replacement,” said Keffer. “A permanent decision should be made at this point as to how to replace him. As mayor-elect I look forward to being a part of this important process.”

Micozzie said he will use his authority to appoint an interim superintendent of police before Chitwood’s Dec. 1 retirement date, to last through Dec. 31. What the process will be after that, when Keffer and the new council take over in early January, has not yet been established. But, said Micozzie, he will not interfere with that process or decision.

When asked if she would keep Chitwood as superintendent had he not retired, Keffer provided a general answer of all current township employees.

“I hope not just for the police superintendent, but for the people currently working at the various departments that they will work with us for the people of Upper Darby and ensure a smooth and professional transition,” said Keffer.

Micozzie and Keffer both acknowledged they will be meeting next week to start discussing the transition between their administrations.

Chitwood’s retirement opens up a vacancy that may not be filled by someone with over a half century of experience, perspective and knowledge to the role.

“Certainly, it’s a challenge to replace anyone with five decades of law enforcement experience,” said former Upper Darby police captain and current Prospect Park Police Chief David Madonna. “You don’t come upon people with that type of experience. We were fortunate in Upper Darby to have a great training program … and there are people who can run it, but you’ll never replace five decades of experience.”

Madonna worked under Chitwood for 14 years before he left for Propsect Park over the summer. He called his former boss “demanding, but fair” and who always “let us do the work we had to to get the job done.”

One part of that was Chitwood to let Madonna set up the department’s social media accounts that have become the talk of the county, and the nation. Not only did these platforms help improve community relations between the department and the public, it was a tool that helped the department solve crimes.

“He reinforced in me the importance of community relations and making sure you stay responsible for your actions,” said Madonna.

Keffer, too, acknowledged Chitwood’s constant public presence, always being seen at community events or riding throughout the township on his bike.

“He made the community accessible. He was noted for making himself accessible to the media,” she said. “The police department does a great job in general in helping the community and I’ll look for ways to improve the relationship between the police and residents.”

The support of Micozzie and a mixture of the right policies has made for a safe community as the nation has been under siege with high profile rallies and protests against various police departments and their actions. With a diverse community representing 70 countries among its 84,000 residents, and abutting Philadelphia no less, Upper Darby has been spared from potentially hostile or violent protests.

“My proudest achievement was weathering every storm that happened. I credit that to our policies and Mike’s ability to policing the community,” said Micozzie. Micozzie was still a township councilman when Chitwood arrived in 2005 from his position as police chief in Portland, Maine. He said he and township Chief Administrative Officer Tom Judge Jr. courted Chitwood to come back to the Philadelphia area and serve the township.

“He exceeded the expectation. He did a great job in boosting morale in the police department, creating programs for the community and working to bring more minorities as officers,” said Micozzie. “His goal and mine, was that the department should be a mirror image of the community.”

Just last week, Chitwood and Micozzie swore in Laina Stevens as the first African American to be named a ranking officer, sergeant, in the department’s history. Chitwood said he was proud to be part of such a moment. Stevens was also the first African American woman to join the township’s force back in 2014.

Chitwood served in various communities before his Upper Darby appointment. He started as a patrolman with the Philadelphia Police Department in 1964 and worked his way up the ranks under the guidance of former police commissioner and Mayor Frank Rizzo. It was here that Chitwood earned his “Media Mike” designation. He worked on high-profile cases throughout the city’s rough streets, including the death of Holly Maddux. It was Chitwood who found her body in a trunk at Ira Einhorn’s house back in 1979.

He moved on to serve as Middletown chief of police in Bucks County in 1983. He was appointed to the same position in Portland in April 1988, where he served until Upper Darby approached him in 2005. At one point, Chitwood was rumored to be a Republican candidate for governor in Maine.

He made a name for himself in the region with his specific candor to describe alleged criminals, calling them scumbags, urban terrorists, animals, idiots and other colorful terms. The line “not in my town, scumbag” became an instant hit in the area to describe the no-nonsense approach he took to having undesirable people committing crimes in the township.

Author Harold Gullan chronicled Chitwood and his career in the biographical 2013 book “Tough Cop: Mike Chitwood vs. the ‘Scumbags.’” Chitwood has made numerous television and radio appearances in the region including an A&E “Intervention” miniseries that ran this summer detailing the opioid epidemic in various areas of Philadelphia and Delaware County.

“Working in the department you knew this day was going to come,” said Madonna. “He had a fantastic run. You can’t say many have had that run.”


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