Six police departments would weigh pluses, minuses

Last updated: January 23. 2014 11:39PM - 4381 Views
By Joe Healey jhealey@civitasmedia.com

Ron Stern, a local government policy specialist of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services, discusses a regionalized police force on Thursday night in Dupont.
Ron Stern, a local government policy specialist of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services, discusses a regionalized police force on Thursday night in Dupont.
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DUPONT – There was good news and bad news, depending on where you live.

A regional police study was presented Thursday night to municipal officials from Avoca, Dupont, Duryea, Hughestown, Laflin and Jenkins Township.

If you live in Laflin, the borough could save nearly $200,000 a year by joining a regional police department. If you cross the border into Jenkins Township, the cost is well over $100,000 more each year, according to the study.

Ron Stern of the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services and Joseph L. Kirschner, on speakerphone from Naples, Fla., detailed a 42-page report outlining current staffing and costs, and a plan for a unified force.

State Rep. Mike Carroll hosted the meeting. State Sen. John Yudichak, a longtime advocate of regionalization, and state Sen. John Blake, were on hand.

In February, a group of public officials met and were urged to sign on to a state-funded study to analyze the possibility of a regional department. The six communities signed on to the study. Pittston city and Pittston Township chose not to participate. Yatesville is patrolled by Jenkins Township and was not included.

Overall, if implemented as proposed, the regionalized force would cost $45,000 less than all the six police departments combined, and have a total budget of $1.7 million.

But, numbers presented show Avoca, Dupont and Jenkins Township would pay more than they’re currently paying and Laflin, Dureya and Hughestown would pay less.

Advantages to a regionalized department, according to the study, are uniformity in law enforcement, better coordination, improvements in recruitment and deployment of officers, better training, better management and supervision and reduced costs.

What’s happens next?

The next step is to form a study commission containing two members from each municipality. Most municipalities seemed receptive to moving forward, but some with reservations.

For instance, Jenkins Township Supervisor Bob Linskey said he was interested, but he felt the savings in the first few years should be spread more evenly among all the communities involved.

“I don’t like the way they developed the percentages of how the costs are split up,” Linskey said. “If the overall savings are going to be $42,000, everybody should get a little bit of savings to start out. Not penalize some communities and let others save $200,000.”

But, Linskey said, the township wants to continue the dialog.

The study said the population of the suggested area is 17,624 and it is 23.5 square miles. It would be divided into four districts, which would have an officer on 24-hour patrol in each district, and a sergeant over each shift.

Total proposed staffing would be 24 officers: 13 patrol officers, two detectives, four sergeants, three additional officers, one lieutenant and one chief. The towns currently have at total of 11 full-time officers and 63 part-time officers. Two administrative clerks are also proposed for the regionalized force.

Stern said no part-time officers were included in the force, but that could be changed.

The proposed department would use 15 police vehicles, four less than are already in the collective fleet.

Suggested salaries are $52,000 for the police chief, $47,000 for the lieutenant, $42,000 for each sergeant, $37,000 for each officer, and one clerk would earn $35,000 and one would earn $25,000. Benefits would cost $364,000 for the 26 staff members.

Other costs such as vehicle maintenance and gas, uniforms, supplies, education, equipment, and headquarter expense would bring the entire budget to $1,742,000.

Who pays and how much?

So how to divvy up the costs?

The study examined population, density, crimes, square miles and road mile. The proposed percentage cost would be: Jenkins Township, 27.4 percent; Duryea, 22.8; Avoca, 17.9; Dupont, 14.4 percent; Laflin, 9.2; and Hugestown, 8.4.

Officials from several towns said some data used was inaccurate. Jenkins Township’s total police budget figure didn’t include officer benefits, and Duryea said several positions that were eliminated were included in the total figure.

Stern said an updated study can be printed out with the changes in a few days. He said he’d also re-run the study to include Yatesville, which expressed interest in joining. That borough currently pays Jenkins Township $24,000 a year for policing.

“What we will hear tonight from the presentation is a guide for a regional police department,” Carroll said at the start of the presentation. “It is not gospel. … You can either chose to do it, not chose to do it, or do something else.”

Carroll said there is state funding, more than $100,000, available and has said he would actively pursue $1 million in gaming funds for start-up costs, such as a police headquarters.

Views are mixed

Pittston Councilman Mike Lombardo, who attended, said he believes the city’s department is better off as an independent agency.

“From the city’s standpoint we wanted to do our due diligence and digest the results of the study,” he said. “At this time we feel that the police services that we offer to our residents would be diluted by our participation in a regional department.”

Duryea Mayor Keith Moss he’s interested in moving forward, but the decision will be up to council.

“We just have to sit down and go over some of our items,” he said. “It says in the report our police budget is $393,000 and that’s not a true statement. It’s much less.”

Dupont Council President Stanley Knick said his borough is interested in proceeding.

“We’re definitely going to do it,” he said. “We think it’s a great idea. It would be a lot more service for our dollar.”

Jenkins Township Supervisor Joe Zelonis said if the numbers hold up, they would have to raise taxes and that’s something he’s hard pressed to do.

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