Bensalem Public Safety Director has Seen it All

Fred+Harran.

Fred Harran.

Gene Thornton

On this chilly Friday morning in late February, Fred Harran’s work-day is off to an ideal start. He’s not observing a murder scene where a victim lies, and officers are sympathetically trying to authority hysterical family members while glistening blood is abound.

He’s not standing in front of the burnt, still, smoldering remains of a home as the charred bodies of two elderly people are removed. He’s not speaking to the media after a 12-year-old girl was struck by a drunk driver as she was about to board her school bus shortly after 7 a.m. one recent morning … He’s in his office.

Inside of the Bensalem Township Municipal Building affixed to a metal door, and covering most of the door’s frosted window, a white sign warns with bold-red-blocked font: “NO WEAPONS BEYOND THIS POINT.”

Through the door and to the left of a long hallway flanked with several small offices and open area desks, sits Bensalem’s Public Safety Director Fred Harran’s spacious-corner office.

Routinely dressed in suit and tie, Harran is business casual today, his holstered firearm prominently displayed on his right hip. Signs don’t apply to him.

He takes a seat in a high-backed, black leather chair behind a large wooden horseshoe-shaped desk. The front is scattered with papers, unopen envelopes, law enforcement reading material, and a large PC monitor.

He was born and raised in Brooklyn New York. “College brought me to this area. That and crack and cocaine,” he said with a quick smile. “When I was in college here at Saint Joe’s in 1983, crack and cocaine became a big thing.”

“There was a crack related shooting across the street from my parents’ house in New York that killed three people. Soon after they moved to Florida with my sister to get away from it. There was no way I was moving to Florida,” he chuckled.

Since the 18th century, law enforcement remains a tradition of family members pursuing the path of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Harran is the first in his family to become a police officer. “Nobody in my family tree is a cop. It’s just something I knew I wanted to do early on as a kid. ‘Lock up the bad guys.’ I can’t explain it,” he said with a quick shrug of his shoulders.

The white walls throughout the office are adorned with multiple plaques of recognition, large framed diplomas and certificates that spotlight his accomplishments, and allegiance to keeping Bensalem safe. He resides in Bensalem along with his daughter when she is home from college.

The timing couldn’t have been better when he found his opportunity in a Philadelphia newspaper just as he completed his Master’s Degree in criminal justice from Saint Joseph’s University in 1987.

“There was no internet back then. I saw a classified ad in a local paper that Bensalem was hiring cops. I’ve been with the police force here for 33 years now,” he proudly said.

In his 33 years, he has initiated several successful programs that continue to yield results. He’s witnessed the good, the tragic, and the evil of humanity. “You name it, I’ve seen it. It comes with the job,” he said. ”It requires a lot of tolerance. A lot.”

“We see and deal with so much every day, that we have mandatory counseling for some cops like the detectives investigating child porn suspects. What they see is unspeakable,” he said while lowering and slowly shaking his head.”

Said Harran before a follow-up question could be completed, “No. I’ve never had a need to see anyone, but, don’t ask me to help with your broken garbage disposal,” he puzzlingly said as he slowly began to rock his chair.

He suddenly stood up and walked towards the entrance to his office, then stopped alongside a wall. “See this?” he said pointing to a small framed drawing of a young boy. “That’s young me. It’s a courtroom sketch from the first time I testified at a trial,” he said while folding his arms and staring at the photo. “It was a rough day for me.”

“It was a murder trial,” he said while walking back to his desk. “I was the first on the scene. A 60-year-old father killed and cut up his 38-year-old daughter on Easter Sunday back in 1990. A male opened the apartment door and said ‘I know why you’re here … I killed my daughter.’”

“When I entered the apartment, I could smell something really bad. I went into the kitchen and in the sink saw her bloody hand, and forearm sticking up from inside of the garbage disposal. He skinned her and was cooking severed body parts in a pot on the stove to keep them from rotting and stinking. He had body parts in the freezer too. There was blood and pieces of flesh all over,” he said. “I can still picture it like it was yesterday.”

Harran is well-read. He’s friendly, quick with a wide smile and dry humor. He’s a likable and unassuming figure. As he has walked away from legions of detestable settings over 33 years, drove home in solitude as raw images ran through his mind, what has impelled him to continue?

When pressed on how he copes with all he has braved without counseling, he leaned forward, and akin to a magician, he slowly turned his hands to reveal empty palms, “It disappears,” he said. “It’s gone. I move on to the next call.”

Bensalem PA is home to more than 60,000 residents within its 21 square miles with 250,000 people visiting daily. There are several business complexes and shopping centers integrated with dozens of restaurants and bars.

It boasts PARX Casino and Race Track. There are two malls, 13 schools, 30 churches, and one hospital.

I-95, the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Route 13, Route 1, Street Road, Septa and Conrail Lines, all run through Bensalem. It borders Philadelphia, “The badlands,” as Harran refers to Philly’s side of the boundary

As safety director, Harran’s responsibilities aren’t limited to the police force. He is equally responsible for the operations of Bensalem’s fire and rescue units, including balancing a $1.5 million budget for Bensalem’s only paid fire department.

It’s indisputable that Bensalem provides bountiful opportunities for criminal activity, traffic accidents, fires, and any number of disasters. Rest assured Bensalem, the dedicated women and men that put their lives on the line 24/7, and Fred Harran are on the job. Just don’t ask him to unclog your garbage disposal.