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Shapiro mines agency experience for public safety nominees

Pennsylvania State Police Maj. Christopher Paris speaks with members of the media during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Stroudsburg, Pa.
Matt Rourke
Pennsylvania State Police Maj. Christopher Paris speaks with members of the media during a news conference, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Stroudsburg, Pa. For state police commissioner, Shapiro will nominate Paris, who is one of four area operations commanders.

Pennsylvania's public safety agencies will be led by long-serving state employees who have risen through the ranks, incoming Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro announced Friday as he fills out his Cabinet before being sworn in.

Instead of bringing in outsiders, Shapiro dipped into the upper ranks of the Department of Corrections, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania National Guard — including nominating the first woman to head up the state's prisons agency.

Shapiro, the state’s two-term elected attorney general, will be inaugurated Tuesday to become the 48th governor of Pennsylvania.

For secretary of corrections, Shapiro will nominate Laurel Harry, a 24-year agency veteran who is now the acting western region deputy secretary. She has experience as a drug and alcohol treatment specialist in state prisons and as superintendent at the Camp Hill prison. She also holds a Ph.D. in criminal justice from the California University of Pennsylvania.

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At a budget of $2.7 billion, the Department of Corrections is one of the state's most expensive agencies to run, as it oversees 23 prisons with about 38,000 inmates, as well as a boot camp, halfway houses and a parole bureaucracy that tracks tens of thousands more people who won early release.

Still, the number of prison inmates is at a 20-year low as the state works to reform its sentencing structure and parole practices. The agency has been run by an acting secretary, George Little, since 2021.

For state police commissioner, Shapiro will nominate Maj. Christopher Paris, a lawyer and career state police trooper who rose through the ranks in northeastern Pennsylvania to become one of four area operations commanders.

As commissioner, Paris will lead one of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies. With a complement of 4,740 troopers, 1,720 civilian employees and a $1.5 billion budget, the Pennsylvania State Police is also one of the largest agencies in state government.

In 2014, Paris was in charge of the Blooming Grove barracks when a man, Eric Frein, shot and killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and gravely wounded Trooper Alex Douglass. Frein was captured after a 48-day manhunt across northeastern Pennsylvania, convicted and sentenced to death.

Troopers patrol 44,000 miles (about 70,800 kilometers) of highway and provide primary police protection for about a quarter of Pennsylvanians as well as lab services, emergency response, helicopters and bomb squad expertise to local police departments.

The agency has jurisdiction in every political subdivision in the state, routinely aids federal law enforcement agencies and provides 24-hour police protection for the governor.

Paris will replace Col. Robert Evanchick, a career state police trooper picked in 2018 by outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf to head the police force.

Paris and Harry are subject to confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate once they are nominated.

Shapiro will retain the top officials at the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, adjutant general of the Pennsylvania National Guard since 2020, will be nominated to continue, Shapiro said. He was confirmed by the Senate in 2021.

Shapiro will retain the current PEMA director, Randy Padfield, who played a prominent role in organizing the state's logistical response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also will promote Tom Cook, administrator of the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, and nominate him to be state fire commissioner.