When Joe Sokolofski was a child up in Hazleton, all he needed to do was turn out to be a Pennsylvania State Police trooper.
“Again the place I grew up they simply had such a stellar repute,” the commander of Bethlehem-based Troop M who retired Friday after 30 years on the job informed lehighvalleylive.com. “They have been on the prime of their recreation. I needed to be a police officer. However I needed to be a trooper. I needed to be with one of the best of one of the best.”
Sokolofski, 51, who performed soccer and wrestled at Hazleton Excessive, headed off in 1988 to Penn State College to check pc science, he mentioned. However when he was going to high school in the future, he noticed a trooper arrest a financial institution robber.
He had selected a profession — he figured his solely different selection was manufacturing facility work again dwelling and he’d already tried that one summer season. And he’d been bullied “a bit” as a child and appreciated the thought of standing as much as bullies.
“I modified my main and the remainder of historical past,” he mentioned. He took the check when he was 20 and inside 4 months he was on the academy, placing an finish for then to his school days.
Upon graduating the academy he was assigned to the Fogelsville barracks — which on the time was a small operation in a constructing maybe a 3rd of the scale of the present facility in Lehigh County. However he was fortunate. He wasn’t removed from dwelling and he wasn’t off in some distant nook of the state, which is at all times attainable for a primary task.
He labored patrol, which he liked.
Though he wasn’t precisely spectacular on his first site visitors cease.
There can be two or three troopers out on a shift and in that a part of the county, it’s totally attainable any backup may very well be 15 miles away, he mentioned.
“It was very busy,” he mentioned. “… You have been left by yourself units. You realized shortly.”
Which brings us to that site visitors cease.
“I keep in mind the primary automotive I pulled over,” he mentioned with fun, including he was a “laborious ass again within the day” and the automotive was solely going 70 on Interstate 78, one thing that “proper now I wouldn’t blink at twice.”
“We have been working radar on an overpass,” he added. “There have been three ladies inside. I used to be actually nervous. I apologized to them for being so nervous. I gave them a warning.”
Sokolofski was on patrol for seven years in western Lehigh County. And it wouldn’t have bothered him in any respect if he spent the subsequent 23 — or 33 — doing the identical factor. However he knew he might make more cash if he sought development.
So he moved on to prison investigations, the place he ended up in undercover work. It’s the one job he’s had as a state trooper the place he simply wasn’t a great match. Amongst different issues, he seems to be like a cop.
“I simply didn’t have the persona for it,” he mentioned.
He studied laborious for the promotion check that may make him a corporal and accountable for a shift. It’s not that he actually needed a place as a supervisor — he was simply attempting to avoid wasting face after not becoming in within the undercover world.
Every station is sort of a self-contained police division, he mentioned. The corporals run issues 16 hours a day, he mentioned.
They’re “in all probability essentially the most important individual” on a shift, he mentioned.
Though he was on his method up, one thing caught with him all through.
“I at all times informed myself,” he mentioned, “the day you may’t get in a patrol automotive and performance as a trooper” is your final day on this job.
At the same time as a captain accountable for drug interdiction on the headquarters in Harrisburg, he would nonetheless “get out with the Protect Models,” the uniformed troopers who intercept unlawful medication, as they patrolled, he mentioned.
He was on his technique to being a boss. He had years on the streets each on patrol and in investigations.
“I had first rate management and administration abilities. … I by no means aspired to be the place I’m at the moment,” he mentioned of his job accountable for 250 staff. “Individuals who have been in that place (when Sokolofski got here up), they have been gods.”
He’s been a Lehigh Valley resident for a few years — initially attempting to commute from Hazleton, earlier than actuality interceded when he fell asleep at a site visitors mild in Tamaqua on the best way dwelling — and is the daddy of women 11 and 14.
Transferring up offered stability in his life, however he hated leaving jobs behind.
He turned the crime corporal, accountable for prison investigations. He moved on to the Dublin barracks in Bucks County, nonetheless in Troop M as is Northampton County, turning into a sergeant overseeing investigations and ultimately station commander, he mentioned.
When he was promoted to lieutenant, he got here to the Bethlehem barracks specializing in administration, ensuring, amongst different issues, that everyone get educated.
“It was a stepping stone,” he mentioned. “You’ve obtained to attend your day trip.”
Quickly he turned the lieutenant accountable for prison investigations, the next profile job.
He was introduced in to analyze when Easton police shot and killed Richard Scheuermann III after a protracted pursuit ended with a crash at North thirteenth and Spring Backyard streets. Scheuermann stabbed himself within the neck and saved attempting to free the wrecked however caught pink pickup truck earlier than he was shot and died. Whereas there was preliminary confusion concerning the taking pictures being justified, Sokolofski mentioned as soon as state police consultants “married up” sprint digicam video from the 13 police autos current, “it didn’t go away something to the creativeness.”
“There have been officers throughout,” he mentioned, including of Scheuermann’s pickup: “If it turned dislodged, it will have run over a number of law enforcement officials. It will have been a catastrophe.”
Northampton County Choose John Morganelli, who as district legal professional in 2014 called in state police to investigate the shooting, mentioned Friday, “Working with Joe was a pleasure. He was at all times respectful and a real skilled.”
Main Kreg S. Rodrigues is presently director of the state police Bureau of Emergency and Particular Operations, and has know Sokolofski for years.
“I’ve had the pleasure to work each for and with Capt. Sokolofski,” Rodrigues mentioned in an e mail. “’Soko’ at all times led from the entrance and by no means requested something of anybody he hasn’t carried out or wouldn’t do and was revered for that.
“His nice repute within the PSP was the results of his character. He made these round him smarter and his dedication to health made us all more healthy.”
Through the years, Sokolofski performed a component within the investigation of a number of high-profile crimes.
Within the 2011 killing of Althea and Jeanette Walbert in Alburtis, it got here right down to “one speck of blood within the insole of a sneaker” pointing to Brandin Kasick because the killer, Sokolofski mentioned. Kasick would later plead no contest to 2 counts of homicide.
“Had that not been collected and preserved proper … ,” Sokolofski mentioned, not finishing the thought.
Two circumstances from years again — the killings of Lehigh County resident Holly Grim in Monroe County and Stephanie Roof in Decrease Macungie Township, circumstances that have been linked by a office — nonetheless haven’t gone to trial. It took three years to search out Grim’s bones. Sokolofski referred to as the investigations “fascinating.”
Splitting his profession between patrol and investigations gave Sokolofski an understanding of the significance of each.
“You possibly can’t go from a foul patrol officer to a terrific investigator,” he mentioned. Each must be “meticulous.”
The patrol officer is the primary to reach and what she or he does within the first couple of minutes “can dictate the result of the case,” Sokolofski mentioned.
Whereas he very a lot loved the job as crimes lieutenant, if he needed to be a captain, he’d have to alter jobs once more, this time overseeing that statewide drug interdiction operation and quite a few undercover and plainclothes troopers.
One other “heart-wrenching choice,” he mentioned.
“If I’d ever have an opportunity to be troop commander, I needed to be a captain first,” he mentioned.
“It was an eye-opening expertise,” he mentioned. “I by no means knew the quantity of medicine they seized and the individuals they arrested till I obtained that place. It was proper in the midst of the opioid epidemic.
“There was some huge cash combatting the opioid epidemic and we have been in a position to make use of a few of that cash within the highest overdose areas.”
Is there any technique to outline success in such a troublesome area?
“Even when it minimize the movement into that space for every week,” he mentioned. “We’d go after avenue degree and higher degree sellers.”
They might additionally establish the addicted and refer them to the state for help.
“I hope not less than a handful of these individuals obtained assist,” he mentioned.
The operation pursued medication, human smuggling, weapons and cash, Sokolofski mentioned.
His boss, a significant, retired, and Sokolofski for a time stuffed in, but it surely was decided he’d not been a captain lengthy sufficient to earn the promotion. So he gave his direct supervisor — a colonel — a letter asking if the Troop M commander place ever opened in Bethlehem, Sokolofski wish to be thought of. Quickly after, the commander in Troop M was promoted to main and Sokolofski was introduced in to switch him in March 2020.
“Troop M is all I do know,” Sokolofski mentioned. “They’ve the best troopers within the most interesting division within the most interesting occupation.”
Issues have actually modified since Sokolofski first began patrolling the roads.
“We do issues higher” in 2021, he mentioned. “In 30 years the know-how has modified. However know-how doesn’t change the caliber of one that reveals up at your door.”
Those that work in Troop M — which incorporates the Belfast, Bethlehem, Fogelsville and Dublin barracks — are “nice individuals,” Sokolofski mentioned. “Expectations are met every day. They’ve it the toughest with what they’re anticipated to do. Each motion is judged. They’ve it tougher than I ever had it. That is the best era of law enforcement officials I’ve ever seen.”
There’s a purpose Sokolofski selected this retirement date — and it has nothing to do along with his Aug. 16 debut as a working police chief in West Pottsgrove Township in Montgomery County.
His roommate on the academy died in 2016. That man’s son this 12 months was graduating from the academy.
Sokolofski has performed the drums since 13, however was by no means actually in a band till 2016 when he joined the state police pipe and drum group.
He’s performed in 12 occasions up to now — the police memorial day occasion, funerals, trooper graduations. He’s hoping to play the 9/11 remembrance in Shanksville.
He needed to nonetheless be with the state police so he might play Friday when the younger man graduated, so he didn’t step down in July, unsure if he would stay within the band after his responsibility ended.
“I inform individuals I’m an expert musician,” mentioned the person who gave away his drum package to a neighbor’s son however nonetheless kilos away in headphones on an electrical set. “I receives a commission to play an instrument.”
Though he dropped out of faculty years in the past to turn out to be a state trooper, Sokolofski didn’t forget about his education.
“In 2020 I obtained my bachelor’s,” he mentioned with delight, one thing that certified for him to maneuver right into a chief’s job in municipal policing, along with permitting him to set an instance for these close to and expensive to him.
“I needed to indicate my youngsters that you simply end what you began,” he mentioned.
So why not keep on with state police and make it a spherical 40 moderately than 30 years on the job? It was what he’d actually love to do, even when it have been behind the wheel of a patrol unit.
However he goes again to being sensible. Higher to make a brand new begin at 51, he mentioned.
“If I stayed till 60, I’d be a 60-year-old searching for a job,” he mentioned.
However any extra time on the job is traumatic for his mother and father, who’re of their early 70s.
“They’re very happy with me,” Sokolofski mentioned. “They don’t like that I’m staying within the occupation. My mom is bored with worrying about me at evening.”
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Tony Rhodin may be reached at email@example.com.