Robert Bartal became the face of the Pennsylvania State during media interviews in June 2009 after state Trooper Joshua Miller was fatally shot while rescuing a kidnapped boy in Monroe County.
When a sniper killed Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounded Trooper Alex Douglass in September 2014 at the Blooming Grove barracks in Pike County, the incident commander summoned Bartal to help with the criminal investigation and manhunt for the gunman.
Bartal has been trusted during some of the biggest — and most trying — moments in the modern history of the state police. Now, he’s being trusted with a big promotion. The 55-year-old recently was promoted to captain and named commander of Troop P, state police at Wyoming, which covers most of Luzerne County and all of Bradford, Sullivan and Wyoming counties.
“It’s a great honor. There are only 16 troop commanders in the state. To be one of 16 people heading a troop command, you realize how fortunate you are,” Bartal said in a recent interview in his office. “It’s something most people strive for in this job.”
When asked about his role after the murders of Miller and Dickson, Bartal deflected the attention.
“The guys in the trenches deserve all the credit,” Bartal said. “It was a difficult time, not only because a member of the Pennsylvania State Police was the victim, but because it was a person you knew.”
Hazleton native comes home
A native of Hazleton, Bartal spent the bulk of his career at Troop N, Hazleton. But that wasn’t the plan.
After graduating from the state police academy, he was assigned to the Jonestown barracks of Troop L, state police at Reading. He met the woman who’d become his wife, bought a home, and had a child. They planned to settle there. Then a sergeant position opened up in Hazleton. Bartal applied and got the promotion.
He liked the job, but not the hour drive each way. They soon moved back to Hazleton.
Bartal spent most of the last 21 years rising through the ranks in Troop N, Hazleton, most recently serving as the lieutenant and commanding officer of its criminal investigation unit.
In that role, he estimated he supervised 150 homicide investigations, many in his hometown of Hazleton.
Earlier in his career, Bartal served on the state police Special Emergency Response Team. One of its missions — a hostage incident at a K-Mart in Shippensburg — became news around the country in September 1992. USA Today’s front page the next day included a photo of Bartal wearing heavy armor and a gas mask while helping corral the suspect.
“That was a pretty memorable incident,” Bartal said while showing the photo, which he has displayed above his desk in his office. “I always thought it was pretty cool.”
Final years of service
Bartal’s office is neatly kept, decorated with various professional and personal mementos. His collection of books ranges from the Bible to the best seller “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.”
“I like to read things on different management styles,” Bartal said. “We all could hone our skills.”
Outside of work, Bartal likes to golf. He’s also an avid runner.
“I try to do 1,000 miles a year, so you can’t miss too many days or you can’t achieve the goal,” Bartal said.
He has been successful for at least 10 years, he said.
Bartal and his wife, Susan, live in Conyngham Borough and have two sons, Nick, 23, and Brian, 14.
At age 55, Bartal is nearing the state police’s mandatory retirement age of 60. In July, he’ll mark 32 years on the job. He could have retired years ago, but still has a passion for the job, he said.
Troop P, Wyoming might be his final stop.
“I’ve enjoyed pretty much the whole experience. I can honestly say — I say this all the time — I could count on one hand the amount of bad days that I’ve had,” Bartal said. “I enjoy the fact you really do get to make a difference.”
Boss down the hall
Bartal replaces his new boss, James Degnan, who was promoted to major and assigned to oversee Troop P, Wyoming; Troop K, Philadelphia; Troop M, Bethlehem; Troop N, Hazleton; and Troop R, Dunmore.
Degnan, a native of Wyoming, will keep his main office at Troop P, Wyoming. But for the next several months, his top mission will be preparing for the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia at the end of July. He is mobilizing 700 troopers from throughout the state to descend on the city to work with the Philadelphia police, Secret Service, FBI and other agencies during the convention, Degnan said.
“Part of my time is going to being getting ready for that,” he said.
Meanwhile, state police troopers at Wyoming are being left in good hands with Bartal in charge, Degnan said.
“He has a vast knowledge in criminal investigations,” Degnan said. “He’s a likeable guy. He’s a good guy. I’m glad to see him succeed.”
Lives in: Conyngham Borough
Time on job: Enlisted in 1984
New job: Captain and commanding officer of Troop P, state police at Wyoming, which covers most of Luzerne County and all of Bradford, Sullivan and Wyoming counties.
Last position: Lieutenant and commanding officer of the criminal investigation unit at Troop N, Hazleton.
ONLINE EXTRA: For video of Capt. Robert Bartal talking about his new job, go to citizensvoice.com
(c)2016 The Citizens’ Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
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