A state trooper warned Coaldale Borough Council Tuesday that by getting rid of its full-time police department, it risks ending up like the notoriously crime-ridden city of Hazleton.
"We see larger boroughs ... an example is Hazleton, with the gangs, and with the drugs, with the crime, with the stabbings, with the shootings. All it takes is for a small borough to take that one step toward letting that criminal element start to take hold, and you can't turn back," Trooper Edward Sanchez told council. "My suggestion would be, you really need your police department in full force."
Sanchez' comments were met with explosive applause from the audience.
Council, which on Feb. 14, 2012, furloughed its three full-time police officers, had nothing to say.
Since the layoffs, the borough has been covered by a patchwork of part-time officers and state police from the Frackville barracks.
Sanchez, of the Frackville barracks, said he was told by his supervisor to attend the public council meeting Tuesday, but was not told why.
"I've seen a lot of small towns that this has happened to, where the police force has been disbanded," he said. "I can guarantee you, from experience, that the state police official version of this is that we're not supposed to get involved. But I've seen from experience what happens when you lose that much police coverage. It's not a good thing. You have a beautiful town here."
Sanchez said he's frequently in Coaldale, and appreciates its neighborly atmosphere.
"In the summer time, I drive through town, and see people sitting on their porches. Everyone gets along together. I wave to the people, and they'll wave back. That's something you don't have anymore in small towns. And that's something you cannot let yourself get away from," he said.
"If you're taking two, three steps back, later on you're going to find out that you're going to make a decision where you're going to want the police back on the force. You're going to have to run that much harder to get back where you were. You don't want this to happen," Sanchez said.
His comments were preceded by remarks from resident Ruth Weiss, who said state police do their best, but it took three hours for them to respond to a recent bar fight that left a woman injured. It took an hour and a half for them to reach the borough in the matter of a recent fatal drug overdose.
Weiss also compared Coaldale to neighboring Lansford. Coaldale, she said, takes in $200,000 more in revenue than Lansford, but Lansford maintains a healthy police force.
"You certainly can't blame them when they have one car," she said.
In a related matter, borough Fire Chief Richard Marek asked council about a recent arbitrator's decision concerning the police furloughs.
"I understand the arbitration came back in their (police officers') favor," he said.
"Remember, it's taxpayers' money. In this budget alone, we have $190,000, $110,000, that this council had put in this budget for ... unemployment, for arbitration fees, and attorney fees. That's taxpayers' money," he said. "If in fact (the arbitration) did come back in favor of the police officers, is this borough going to waste more of the taxpayers' money on appeals? It's a crime if you do."
Marek said that if council pursues an appeal, it should be paid out of their own pockets. His comment was met with a round of applause.
Councilman Joseph Hnat said council planned to meet Wednesday to discuss the ruling, but that it could not be discussed publicly.