Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thursday meeting will examine regionalized police

January 19. 2014 11:50PM

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DUPONT — Call it a $1.1 million carrot.

State Rep. Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, plans to meet with area public officials and residents from Greater Pittston communities on Thursday to present a state study on police regionalization.

A major hurdle to such projects is often startup costs and Carroll said the state is ponying up $100,000 and Dupont applied for a $1 million gaming grant that has a good chance of being approved.

In February, the group of public officials met and were urged to sign on to a state-funded study to analyze the possibility of a regional police department. Officials from Avoca, Duryea, Dupont, Jenkins Township, Laflin and Hughestown signed on to the study. Pittston city and Pittston Township chose not to participate. Yatesville is patrolled by Jenkins Township.

The study looked at police activity, staffing, costs, types and number of calls, among other data. The results are in and will be presented at a public meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Dupont Borough Building.

The study proposed a regional police department for the 18,000 residents in the participating towns. Proposed staffing includes 13 full-time patrol officers, three part-time officers, four patrol sergeants, a lieutenant, a police chief and two administrative personnel.

Carroll pointed to increased crime in the region, including the 13 homicides in Wilkes-Barre in 2013.

“Should we assume that what’s happening in Wilkes-Barre will never come here?” he asked. “That’s not a safe assumption. We’re right between two major cities.”

Carroll said regionalization is already happening in other municipal services in Greater Pittston. He pointed to the Greater Pittston Area Regional Compost Facility that is shared by eight Greater Pittston and other communities. Jenkins Township patrols Yatesville. Pittston and Jenkins ambulance crews recently merged, and Avoca took over Duryea ambulance service after the Duryea crew disbanded. That’s in addition to fire and police mutual aid agreements that all municipalities have.

The pros of a regionalized force? Carroll said the answer is simple: better policing.

“You’ll have a more professional service, more police officers, better equipment, better policing.”

The other obvious question is the cost. Does it save money, cost more or stay about the same? Carroll said it depends on the type of force that is created.

“You get what you pay for and it all depends on what the officials want to pay for,” he said.

After presentation, towns will consider the proposal and the next step would be to form working group and contemplate what a regional police department would look like.

“They would use the study as a guide, not a gospel,” he said. “And then the communities will chose.”

A major hurdle, Carroll said, are residents’ and officials’ concerns about police presence.

“The communities have a familiarity with their current police protection,” Carroll said. “They have a general sense of what the equipment looks like, where the equipment is housed, who the officers are. So the concern will be will the regional department provide a level of service to the community that’s as good as or better than what we currently have?”

He said the chances of a regional department are “possible, with some real hurdles to clear, and there should be. To make a change like this is not something any community should do in a haphazard way.”

Carroll said the $1.1 million carrot for a startup cost could stretch into helping the towns for the first year or two. And the two local regional departments, Stroud Regional and Pocono Regional, routinely receive gaming cash for upgrades and equipment.

He said the state is fully behind any regionalization.

“Efficiencies can be gained in shared services,” he said. “It’s a philosophy that crosses from one administration to the other and beyond party lines.”

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