Surrounded by loved ones and officials, members of the new Upper Macungie Police Department swore Friday to protect and serve the township to the best of their abilities.
The swearing-in of officers was held at the township building in two shifts Friday -- at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. -- because the majority of them still work for the soon-to-be-defunct Berks Lehigh Regional Police and they could not all be off at the same time.
The township will officially switch over to the new department at 6 p.m. Dec. 31.
District Judge Michael Faulkner administered the oath to the officers before each was called up individually to sign the oath and receive his badge.
Supervisor Chairman Edward Earley praised Police Chief Edgardo Colon, who with the help of Office Manager Keri L. Diehl, Clerical Assistant Deborah M. Schnellman and Lts. Michael J. Sitoski and Joseph B. Wilson, organized the department.
"The chief believes in a very strong presence," Earley said. "He's very proactive."
Colon, who served as commander of the State Police at Fogelsville barracks until August, said he is looking forward to getting to know township residents in a way that he wasn't able to as a state police commander of a barracks that covered several municipalities.
"I'm looking forward to having a direct connection to this community," Colon said.
He said he wants his officers to show compassion as well as projecting strength.
"I don't want our officers to be hypocrites," Colon said. "I want them to treat people the same way they and their families expect to be treated."
The 28-member department will be required to cover 25 square miles of territory with a population of about 20,000. But another 44,000 people come to work in the township, which has a heavy concentration of business and industry.
Sgt. William Easparro said he's excited to start working for the new department and appreciates that the township hired so many of the Berks-Lehigh officers who know the community.
Under the Berks-Lehigh department, officers have had to contend with two different county systems -- different radio systems, courts and correctional systems.
"Everything will be much more consistent working with one county," Sitoski said.
Det. Adam X. Miller said he loves the state-of-the-art police station the department is moving into. And he agreed with Easparro that having so many veterans from the Berks-Lehigh force is a plus.
"We've all worked together and we work together well," Miller said.
Earley said the other communities covered by the Berks-Lehigh police force -- Maxatawny Township and Topton and Lyons boroughs in Berks County -- will be covered by state police after the Berks-Lehigh department officially ends Dec. 31.