Officials and residents from Tamaqua and Coaldale boroughs and West Penn, Walker and Schuylkill townships came together on Thursday at Tamaqua Borough hall to further discuss a regional police force for all participating municipalities.
The idea of a detailed feasibility study pertaining to a unified regional police force was initiated by Tamaqua Mayor Christian Morrison over a year ago and has since attracted the attention of surrounding municipalities.
Ron Stern, local government policy specialist, DCED; and John Baujan, Stroud Area Regional police chief; were on hand to answer questions and explain how the feasibility study works.
Following an hour and a half of discussion and key initial-stage questions, officials from each of the five municipalities signed the Peer-To-Peer Technical Assistance Articles of Agreement form, officially starting the study, which is being done at no cost to municipalities.
Participating in the regionalized police force study agreement signing were Morrison, Tamaqua mayor; Dave Price, Walker Township supervisor; Bill McMullen, Walker Township vice chairman; Joe Hnat, Coaldale borough councilman; and Linda DeCindio, Schuylkill Township chairwoman.
The study, which is expected to end in about four to six months, is between the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), Governor's Center for Local Government Services, a peer-to-peer consultant and each municipality.
Stern stressed that it's a detailed feasibility study and doesn't commit any municipality to anything. He said the study will include formulas from the International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACP), involving each participating municipality, such as demographics, fiscal values, manpower, organization, local budgets and administration.
Peer-to-peer consultant Baujan, who has been the chief of the Stroud Area Regional Police force since 2000, pointed out that regionalization is nothing to be afraid of and the idea of exploring a regionalized police force in the area is very exciting.
He said he will be working with the participating municipalities for the duration.
Baujan also pointed out how municipalities will benefit from creating a regionalized police force. Some benefits Baujan mentioned were overhead costs, administration fees, safety, consistency, smoother operations, and better access to training and gear.
Typically, if all the municipalities agree to a regionalized police force, a new commission, consisting of about three officials from each municipality, will have to be created and self-governing.
Both Stern and Baujan pointed out that this study will be providing each participating municipality a detailed plan encumbering a great array of research, concerns and other information that will help municipalities understand and determine if a regionalized police force is right for them.
It was also mentioned that a regionalized police force will not affect the officer's response times, accountability and usually doesn't require any layoffs of officers. The study doesn't recommend or include part-time officers in the final plan.
Rush and Kline townships also have plans to discuss the possibility of participating in the feasibility study, possibly making it a seven-municipality regionalized task force, if every municipality agrees to the study and eventually pursues the regionalization plan.
Many other notable questions and discussions involving officers' pensions, part-time officers, state police involvement, health care benefits, uniforms, salaries, civil service status, state and government contracts, shared budgets and the possibility of making two regionalized police forces instead of one, were also brought-up.
These items will be better and more accurately answered for each individual municipality following the end of the study.
When the study is completed, township and borough officials from each municipality can eventually choose to participate in the regionalized police force, stay the same or pursue other changes.
Morrison mentioned that participating municipalities can tailor-make the plan to best fit their needs.
"This is a "win-win" for everyone," Morrison added.