Town hall ad­dresses pro­posed shift to re­gional po­lice

Gov. Wolf pro­poses charg­ing for State Po­lice cov­er­age

Northern Berks Patriot Item - - FRONT PAGE - By Laura E. Quain For Digital First Media

Se­na­tor Judy Sch­wank hosted a Town Hall meet­ing at Brandy­wine Heights Mid­dle School on May 17 to dis­cuss re­gion­al­iz­ing po­lice de­part­ments and Governor Tom Wolf’s pro­posal to charge mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for con­tract­ing with State Po­lice.

Wolf pro­poses that mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with­out their own po­lice depart­ment who con­tract with State Po­lice would be charged $25 per per­son to help fund State Po­lice.

Cur­rently, the State Po­lice is

funded out of the High­way Fund. About $800 mil­lion out of ex­penses like li­cense fees and the gas tax goes to­wards the State Po­lice. The High­way Fund ex­ists pri­mar­ily for safety and con­struc­tion pur­poses.

Sch­wank opened the meet­ing by say­ing that Wolf’s pro­posal led her to be­gin to ques­tion how leg­is­la­tors should look at pub­lic safety within the Com­mon­wealth, where the money should come from and the gen­eral level of safety in the Com­mon­wealth.

She then turned the floor over to the fea­tured speaker, local gov­ern­ment pol­icy man­ager at the Governor’s Cen­ter for Local Gov­ern­ment Ser­vices, Ron Stern, who has 20 years ex­pe­ri­ence in law en­force­ment. He be­gan to work with the state af­ter his re­tire­ment from law en­force­ment, when for­mer Governor Tom Ridge com­bined two de­part­ments to form the Depart­ment of Com­mu­nity and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment, within which the Governor’s Cen­ter for Local Gov­ern­ment Ser­vices was formed.

“It’s a real pas­sion for me be­cause I un­der­stand the way that our Com­mon­wealth is set up with all the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that we have and we need to do some­thing bet­ter to pro­vide pub­lic safety,” said Stern, who was hired to work with po­lice is­sues for the cen­ter.

The topic of Stern’s dis­cus­sion was re­gion­al­iza­tion of po­lice de­part­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to Stern, there are 2,560 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Penn­syl­va­nia, with only 966 mu­nic­i­pal-owned po­lice de­part­ments. There are 201 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties who con­tract their po­lice cov­er­age from other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. There are 37 re­gional po­lice de­part­ments formed by 121 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pro­vide po­lice pro­tec­tion.

Stern said that the Pa. State Po­lice cov­ers 1,272 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Thirty one per­cent of the state’s mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties em­ploy only full-time of­fi­cers, 12 per­cent em­ploy only part-time of­fi­cers and 57 per­cent em­ploy both full-time and part-time of­fi­cers. There are 18,382 full-time of­fi­cers and 597 of these are re­gional of­fi­cers. There are 1,986 part-time of­fi­cers with 130 of them be­ing em­ployed re­gion­ally.

Ac­cord­ing to Stern, there is a cap on the num­ber of of­fi­cers that the state is al­lowed to em­ploy; the num­ber is just un­der 5,000.

He shared that each mu­nic­i­pal­ity is rec­om­mended to have at least 10 full-time of­fi­cers, if an agency has less than that, it should con­sider con­sol­i­da­tion, or re­gional policing, to pro­vide the most ef­fi­ciency and ef­fec­tive­ness.

Of the full-time de­part­ments in Penn­syl­va­nia, 37 per­cent have less than 10 of­fi­cers, 94 per­cent of the part-time de­part­ments have less than 10 of­fi­cers, 83 per­cent of the both full and part-time de­part­ments have less than 10 of­fi­cers and 19 per­cent of the re­gional de­part­ments have less than 10 of­fi­cers.

Stern dis­cussed the pros and cons of the re­gion­al­iza­tion of po­lice de­part­ments.

With re­gion­al­iza­tion, there is cost distri­bu­tion where ev­ery­one in­volved shares the costs, he said.

Stern be­lieves that for every four em­ploy­ees, there should be one su­per­vi­sor; he said con­sol­i­da­tion al­lows for that type of su­per­vi­sion for bet­ter man­age­ment and su­per­vi­sion.

He said re­gion­al­ized de­part­ments find them­selves with im­proved train­ing; with more of­fi­cers, the more pos­si­ble it be­comes for some to en­gage in train­ing while oth­ers re­main on the streets.

“I couldn’t af­ford to send some of my of­fi­cers to train­ing, I needed them on the street,” said Stern. “I couldn’t al­ways send my of­fi­cers to train­ing, I did the manda­tory stuff, but I would have loved to have sent more of my guys to ac­ci­dent re­con­struc­tion or pho­tog­ra­phy class, some­thing like that would help im­prove the ser­vices.”

With re­gion­al­iza­tion there is also en­hanced ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties, with su­per­vi­sion and a com­mand struc­ture, where non-con­sol­i­dated de­part­ments of­ten house only a chief and pa­trol of­fi­cers, which can take away in­cen­tive, Stern said. There is also a full range of po­lice ser­vices, like ac­ci­dent re­con­struc­tion and crime scene anal­y­sis, and con­sis­tent en­force­ment and im­proved cov­er­age and distri­bu­tion, he said.

Stern also rec­og­nized the cons, such as the loss of local con­trol, ser­vices and cit­i­zen con­tact. He said that all mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in a re­gion­al­ized po­lice sit­u­a­tion, pro­tect­ing the local voice.

On the is­sue of loss of cit­i­zen con­tact, he said, “I think peo­ple tend to com­plain that they don’t see their po­lice any­more and I re­ally thought about this years ago. Why do we keep get­ting this com­plaint?”

Stern said this com­plaint stems from the so­ci­etal changes that have oc­curred where fam­i­lies are of­ten on the go so fre­quently that they don’t see pa­trol cars driv­ing around.

In the end, re­gion­al­iza­tion de­pends on in­di­vid­ual mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and their unique needs. He con­ducts Re­gional Po­lice Fea­si­bil­ity Stud­ies where he ex­am­ines de­mo­graph­ics, fis­cal data, bud­get, costs and needs. He then makes rec­om­men­da­tions to the mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

“Even though this is what I do for the cen­ter, and I am very pas­sion­ate about re­gional policing, I have made rec­om­men­da­tions that it’s not in the best in­ter­est of some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties for a num­ber of rea­sons. But typ­i­cally they all boil down to one area, politics,” said Stern. “If you don’t have that good-work­ing re­la­tion­ship, it’s not go­ing to work.”

He said that he is work­ing on about eight po­lice depart­ment merg­ers at this time.

Sch­wank and Stern opened the floor to pub­lic com­ments.

The first to speak was a Top­ton res­i­dent of 30 years who re­calls a mu­nic­i­pal po­lice depart­ment with less than 10 of­fi­cers, which he thought worked just fine. Af­ter the depart­ment re­gion­al­ized he re­calls walk­ing his dog late at night and be­com­ing ac­quainted with pa­trolling of­fi­cers. The re­gion­al­ized depart­ment dis­banded and the state po­lice now pa­trol his area. Af­ter hav­ing ini­tial con­cerns, he is pleased at what the state po­lice have ac­com­plished.

An­other res­i­dent said that state po­lice took more than 45 min­utes to ar­rive on scene at an in­ci­dent in Max­atawny Town­ship. He claimed that the more ar­eas the state po­lice cover, there will al­ways be a mu­nic­i­pal­ity that suf­fers.

Many peo­ple in at­ten­dance rec­og­nized that Kutz­town or Fleet­wood could pa­trol the Top­ton area to help the State Po­lice.

If Gov. Wolf’s leg­is­la­ture passes, the $25 per per­son would not in­crease the num­ber of state po­lice in an area. Some in at­ten­dance ar­gued that if an area is pay­ing more, they should be re­ceiv­ing in­creased ser­vices.

There are con­cerns that this fee could rise every few years. Sch­wank agreed that the leg­is­la­ture would need to be looked at closely.

“I am very happy, al­ways, to go out and speak with con­stituents,” said Sch­wank. “This is re­ally one of the most im­por­tant things that I do, to get feed­back from peo­ple. And it couldn’t be a more im­por­tant time to get feed­back be­cause we’re just about ready to go back to Harrisburg to fo­cus to­tally on the bud­get and get some­thing done that meets the needs of the state of Penn­syl­va­nia.”


Senator Judy Sch­wank and Ron Stern of the Gover­nor’s Cen­ter for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Ser­vices speak to au­di­ence at town hall meet­ing held at Brandy­wine Heights Mid­dle School, May 17.

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