By JEFF STITT
Mark Sargent said it is possible he was destined to become White Oak police chief.
“It’s just like a calling; I’ve just always wanted to do it,” he said.
He was sworn into the position Feb. 5 by Mayor Ina Jean Marton, and said he has been dreaming of the opportunity since he was a little boy.
“I lived right up the road, and I’d drive by to go here and there and you’d see the police cars out front, and I was infatuated,” he said of his youth near the police station by the White Oak and North Huntingdon Township border.
Sargent said that as a child sitting in his parents’ car, he thought lights on police cruisers were cool.
“I can remember all the way back to when our cars had the dome bubble lights on top of them,” he said. “I loved looking at that.”
If not a police officer, he wanted to be a fighter pilot.
After graduation from Norwin High School in 1985, Sargent obtained a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from the University of Pittsburgh.
Sargent said he fell in love with law enforcement while undergoing an internship with the North Huntingdon Police Department.
He moved on to the police academy at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with recently retired White Oak Chief Lou Bender.
He started his career in 1991 as a part-time officer with the former Wilmerding Police Department, but was eager for a full-time position.
“I tested everywhere, and then finally got a job in White Oak,” Sargent said. “I tested probably like 50 places and was number one on a lot of lists, but this was the only place I wanted to be chief.”
He joined White Oak on Jan. 25, 1994, and after seven years he became a detective.
Sargent has taught defensive tactics with Tasers and batons, and for the past nine years has served as officer in charge.
“It’s been rewarding,” he said. “I like the camaraderie between the officers, and when that’s going well it’s a very fun job.”
Sargent said his two biggest goals are to develop a strong relationship between police and residents and to build togetherness in the police department.
“I don’t want to come in with an iron hammer, I just want to come in and work together,” he said.
“We’re very talented, we get a lot done,” he said. “I think by training together as a department, we can become stronger and closer.
Sargent said his team will undergo extensive in-house training.
“We’re lucky enough to have a couple people here who are certified to train people on different things, and we need to capitalize on that so we can all keep both the officers and the actors safe,” he said. “We’re supposed to be peacekeepers.”
The new chief plans to be at all White Oak community events and will establish a meet-the-officers booth for community days celebrations.
Sargent wants to form a cops-and-kids program and conduct walk-throughs at schools to help students become familiar with law enforcement.
He plans to be open with residents.
He is working to develop a Facebook page to allow residents to send him messages. Officer Greg Smith is handling that project.
“I want to make it so the messages come right to my desk,” Sargent said.
That way, he can investigate problems, solve them and report back to the resident.
He said the department will focus on the opioid drug problem.
“There’s a very big problem everywhere, and anybody who doesn’t think so is fooling themselves,” Sargent said. “We can’t ignore it; it’s in every town. I think if we have a much-increased presence doing traffic enforcement, that would help out quite a bit.”
Sargent and wife, Jennifer, have two daughters, Christina Sargent, 16, and Jessica Patterson, 25.
“I hope they’re proud of me, and I want to say thanks for putting up with the rotating shifts. It’s hard, it beats up your body,” he said. “The hours take away from your family; you miss so much stuff.
“You give CPR at 5:30 in the morning on Christmas and then at 6:30 the kids wanna get up and open presents.”
Sargent said he loves spending time with his family, adding he will be eligible for retirement in a year.
“That’s not in the cards,” he said. “I’ve finally reached what I wanted to reach.”
Sargent said the new job was an unexpected opportunity.
“I thought Lou would be around for another 10 or 15 years, and I gotta take full advantage of it,” he said.
When off the job, Sargent teaches martial arts, which he has been studying for 24 years.
Seidokan karate, an Okinawan Ryu fighting style, is his passion.
“It teaches you humility, how to be humble,” he said.
A certified scuba diver, Sargent has explored under water off Hawaii, Nassau, Cozumel and Cancun.
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