East Cocalico Township Police Officer Keith McCabe

Most times, people travel or move south to get away from the cold weather. East Cocalico Township Police Officer Keith McCabe did the opposite.

“[My partner and I] were living together in Florida with a house and baby,” McCabe said. “One day I was working a day shift, sweating bullets, and was thinking about how we’d visited Lancaster County in the winter to get away from the heat and see snow. We just fell in love with the area. I thought, ‘Why wait until retirement?'”

He has now been an officer with the East Cocalico Police Department for five years after working as a deputy sheriff in Florida’s Hernando County.

“The small-town feel is what we really wanted,” McCabe said. “Better schools are what we wanted for our kids. It's just a clean and beautiful county. Everybody I've talked to, if they know Pennsylvania, they usually know Lancaster County.”

McCabe was born in Connecticut, where his father was stationed in the Navy, before moving to Florida at a young age. His family has strong military and law enforcement ties as his grandfather was a police officer in Nassau County, New York.

“I grew up with respect for law enforcement and always wanted to get in the field,” McCabe said. “I have an identical twin brother, who’s a deputy sheriff in Florida in the neighboring county where I used to work. It’s just something we grew up with and always wanted to go to the Academy. I never wanted to do anything else.”

McCabe’s father taught him a motto that he still lives by today: Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

“That’s what I like to do,” McCabe said. “Just to help people as best as I can, take people who are doing bad things away, make it safer for my kids, my family, my friends, the community, because that's what they expect. That's what they pay their taxes for. They pay our salaries to go out there and do the job. I enjoy doing it.”

McCabe graduated from the Police Academy in Florida in 2013 and frequently worked in narcotics investigations after joining Hernando County’s Sheriff’s Office. He was a vice undercover narcotics officer for over a year.

He needed to pass an equivalency test through the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) when he moved to Pennsylvania to continue working as a law enforcement officer in a different state.

“All of my trainings that I had been to down south, my academy certificates, all my certificates, I had to send to MPOETC which handles the certification here in the state of Pennsylvania,” McCabe said. “They basically say yes or no to you, if you need more training, or if you're qualified to take the test and get certified to be a police officer here in this state.”

He passed the test and was approved before East Cocalico Township offered him a position. McCabe’s focus shifted more toward DUIs from the narcotics-based work in Florida, but the love for the job remained.

He likes how the job differs every day, but also recognizes that can add difficulties in figuring out how to best approach a situation he hasn’t experienced before. McCabe has seen firsthand how difficult a job in law enforcement can be from a young age.

“One of the most difficult things from my own experience, especially when I was brand new, is being fair but firm,” he said. “As you can imagine, not a lot of people like to get arrested. People call us because they have a problem. Sometimes they want you to solve it right then and there. That's not always the case. It's not like people are conditioned for customer service-related aspects where the customer's always right. It's not really like that in law enforcement because we must follow the law. You just have to be able to portray that in a respectful, professional manner.”

McCabe also noted misconceptions portrayed in Hollywood movies and the myth that police officers have quotas as factors that add difficulties to the job.

He winds down during his free time by going to the gym and playing video games with his twin brother and cousin (who also works in law enforcement at a Florida prison), a good way to keep in touch with his family from Florida without having to experience the dreaded heat.

Another attraction keeping him in Lancaster County is the tight-knit community. He worked in a department with nearly 200 people in Florida – many of which he never met – while at East Cocalico Township he knows and gets along with all his coworkers.

“If you have any interest in being a police officer or joining law enforcement, do a ride along,” McCabe said. “Do a little bit of research about what it entails because everybody says it's more than just a job. Or even more than a career. It really is a lifestyle. You miss a lot of birthdays. You miss a lot of holiday events. You can't just take off because it's Christmas. But it's very rewarding. And the old phrase is very true after 10 years in law enforcement, it's a front row seat to the greatest show in the world. You get to see the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. There’s just nothing, nothing like it.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Sean McBryan, semcbryan@co.lancaster.pa.us; Twitter: @SeanMcBryanLanc.