A study supports the recommendation that five participating municipalities – Coaldale and Tamaqua boroughs and Schuylkill, Walker and West Penn townships – should be consolidated into one single regional police department, headquartered in West Penn Township.
After spending months gathering and analyzing information concerning fiscal data, crime rates, geographics, population, police operational budgets, road mileage and manpower, officials presented the final results of the Eastern Schuylkill County Regional Police Study were presented at Tuesday's Tamaqua Borough Council meeting.
Mayor Chris Morrison, discussed a number of key factors concerning the 40-page study.
Ron Stern, a Local Government Policy specialist with the Governor's Center for Local Government Services (GCLGS), Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, and John Baujan, police chief of the Stroud Area Regional Police Force, held a meeting recently with officials from all the participating municipalities to go over facts and related topics concerning the police study results.
Township and borough officials on hand during the recent meeting were Morrison; Dave Price, Walker Township supervisor; Bill McMullen, Walker Township supervisor; Joe Hnat, Coaldale councilman; and Brian Johnson, West Penn police chief.
If agreed upon by all municipalities, the consolidation, which distributes costs between municipalities, of the police agencies will result in major changes in the delivery of police services.
They include the ability to establish a uniform and consistent police enforcement program throughout all five municipalities, ability to provide more efficient and effective police services by eliminating the duplication of services, improved training and the ability to provide 24-hour, 365-day-a-year police service with full-time personnel.
Possible disadvantages include losses of local services, local control, citizen contact and position.
Cost comparisons and distribution methods for each municipality used factors like population, property value, police protection unit, revenue, taxes collected, land area and road mileage to determine the responsibility of each municipality.
If all municipalities agree on the plan, a new regional police force will be created, consisting of a new police commission, optional civil service commission, single chief of police, and about 15 full-time officers.
In the plan, the estimated total regional police force proposed budget for 2012, without grants, would be $2,061,879.
Stern and Baujan noted that a number of key facts brought up in the detailed study reinforced their recommendations for consolidation. One of the positive points mentioned involved the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals notes, in standard 5.2, that every state and local government and police agency should provide police services by the most effective and efficient organizational means available to it.
It also noted that, at a minimum, police departments that employ fewer than 10 sworn employees should consolidate for improved efficiency and effectiveness.
A state report for the Improvement of Police Services, Standard 6.4, recommends consolidation, "but in no case should an arbitrary limit on agency size be imposed, and in no case should individual agency members lose salary or status as a result of such consolidation."
The Pennsylvania Crime Commission, in its annual report, notes that Pennsylvania has more than a thousand individual police departments. There is no other state in the nation which comes close to Pennsylvania's number of local police units.
More than 60 percent of Pennsylvania full-time police departments have fewer than five officers. Smaller departments and agencies lack officers to provide adequate continuous patrol and an ability to provide a full range of police services.
A consolidated force eliminates duplication, better utilizing resources, provides better training and is better able to respond to area-wide problems.
A 1989 police study, titled "A Review of the Northern York County Regional Police Department," completed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community Affairs, concluded that a regional police force would provide a higher level of service at a significantly lower cost by using less personnel and resources.
In 2007, another police study, "A Comparative Review of a Regional Police Department and Traditional Police Departments," completed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community Development, focused on the West Hills Regional Police Department in Cambria County.
Again, DCED concluded that the regional police department was providing a higher level of service at a significantly lower cost.
The study also mentioned that the average citizen in the communities served by the West Hills Regional Police Department paid 24.2 percent less for police services than citizens served by their own police agencies in model communities.
The President's Commission Law Enforcement Administration of Justice Task Force Report on police states, "The political and social pressures linked to the desire for local self-government offers the most significant barrier to the coordination and consolidation of police services."
"Internal opposition has occurred with the nearly every major change in policing since the turn of the century," Baujan said. "Today, police academy training, civil service merit systems for hiring and promotions, and telecommunications systems that dispatch police for whole counties, are taken for granted as indispensable to a modern police force, but each of these innovations was accepted only after a hard-fought battle."
Stern, Morrison and Baujan noted that this report does not cover all the factors regarding the implementation or a regional police department.
If accepted, a regional police commission will have to be selected and address other issues, such as selection of police chief, development of the articles of agreement, design of a personnel or civil service system, merging of police pensions, contracts. etc.
Although they added, "In our view, enough information has been developed in this report to all the five municipalities to make a decision on whether to proceed. Should the communities indicate a desire to do so, the GCLGS has offered its assistance in addressing the remaining issues."
If municipalities agree on the consolidation, grants might be available via the Shared Municipal Services Grant Program, which helps with 50 percent of the total project cost, or the Regional Police Assistance Grant Program, which helps with transition costs – not to exceed 75 percent of project cost in the first year, 50 percent the second year and 25 percent the third year.
"We commend the elected officials from the five municipalities for looking into the possibility of consolidating police services," Stern said.
"We know that the intergovernmental cooperation in the municipal policing is probably more difficult to achieve than in any other municipal service," he added.