Residents meet with mayor, police
RICK GRANT/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Mayor Michael Sofranko, left, and Police Chief Joseph Schatz prepare for a meeting with residents.
Jim Thorpe residents who live in the area of West Broadway met with their police chief, mayor, members of the borough's police force and members of borough council on Thursday night at the Phoenix Hose Company in what was the final of three town meetings.
Mayor Michael Sofranko and Police Chief Joseph Schatz cochaired the meetings, which were intended to inform and hear concerns from borough residents.
In addition to about 45 residents and shop owners, Thursday's meeting was attended by John McGuire, chairman of the borough's police committee; Joseph Marzen, chairman of the borough's emergency services committee; Joanne Klitsch, chairman of the borough's sewer and sanitation committee; volunteers from the Phoenix Hose Company; and seven uniformed police officers.
Sofranko opened the meeting by handing out reports detailing police activity in the borough for all of 2009. Schatz went through the paperwork, explaining some of the information. He pointed out that serious crimes in the borough were uncommon and that most of the criminal activity that the borough's police force responds to is related to quality of life issues.
Sofranko said that press releases are now going out regularly to the newspaper so that residents will be better informed about the calls to which the borough's police department are responding.
"Having the mayor we have and the officers I now have, we have a team that is ready to protect the quality of life in Jim Thorpe," Schatz said. "This is an energetic group that is ready to keep the residents of Jim Thorpe safe."
"A lot of this is quality of life issues," Sofranko agreed, pointing to the police reports. "We want to make sure that the quality of life here is what you want."
Residents and business owners living and working in the area of West Broadway made their concerns clear during the meeting. Topping the list were parking problems, speeding, the traffic light at the bottom of Broadway and snow removal on the streets and the bridge across the Lehigh River. Other issues included young people loitering, skateboarding on the sidewalk and breaking curfew, and the lack of a driveway ordinance.
Sofranko pointed out that these were the same types of issues that residents brought up at other meetings. He did point out that residents on West Broadway seemed to communicate better "with each other" than residents in other areas of town, where private driveways made it possible for homeowners to get out of the cold without any close contact with neighbors.
Sofranko outlined a number of changes that are currently in process at the police department. He said a new detective would be hired and said that his office would be submitting a name to borough council for approval later this month.
The department would also be hiring an additional full-time police officer to fill the space left when Schatz moved up to chief. Sofranko expected a list of names to be coming from the Civil Service Committee soon.
The department will also have a new sergeant in the near future, hopefully by April. The department is currently developing a test that will be administered to officers to see who qualifies to be promoted. The new sergeant will take some of the pressure off Chief Schatz and provide some additional management in the department.
Sofranko said that moving officers to 10-hour shifts has made it easier for them to do their jobs and still have a good home life. Officers work four 10-hour days, have three days off, work three days and then have four days off. He said the schedules were fairly easy to work out and are working well.
The meter maids working the borough's streets will be wearing new uniforms soon that will help them look different from police officers. The women will be wearing polo shirts over khaki slacks. They will still drive police vehicles.
Finally, a new computerized system is in use to allow police officers to check in and out of work by scanning a card. The system also allows officers to check in and out with the communications center, making it easy for management to know who is on duty at any given time.
Last year, the comm center took over 3,000 calls for the borough police department and officers traveled over 52,000 miles of roadway patrolling the borough's 15 square miles.
After the meeting, Sofranko said that he was very pleased with the turnout over the course of the three town meetings.
"We had 35-45 people at each meeting," he said. "We got to meet with over 120 people."
Sofranko said he was generally pleased with the way residents conducted themselves during the meetings and that most seemed happy with the way his office and the police department were starting out the year. But he added that he expected that to change as borough police begin enforcing ordinances that have not been strictly enforced in the past and residents started getting citations.
"The police department is going to be addressing what residents want addressed," he said. He warned residents to begin watching their speed, parenting their children and generally abiding by the law.
"This is a small town, I understand that," he said. "But I sweat the small stuff so that it doesn't become the big stuff. People came here and people have been living here for generations because of the quality of life. We're not going to let that get away."
Sofranko presented residents with a sign up sheet that would be the beginning of an organized attempt to provide more community policing.
"We have four major parades each year and we can use help directing traffic," Sofranko said. "We want residents who can be out there serving the public, not necessarily citing people, but asking if people need help."
Residents interested in finding out more about volunteering for the community policing effort should contact the borough office or visit the borough's Web site at http://www.jtborough.org.
Schatz, who grew up on West Broadway, said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting.
"I have experience here, so I basically knew what was going to come up," he said. But he added that he had also learned things during the series of meetings. He said his department was ready to respond to residents' concerns.
"I'm very confident with what's going on," Schatz said.