Posts Tagged ‘Regionalized police force’

The push for regional police in York

Posted on November 5th, 2009

The push for regional police in York

The third in a series by Cliff Lewis

As the notion of police regionalization begins to brew in Lancaster’s public sphere, recent efforts in York provide a glimpse of how this dialog could develop in our community.

Coordinated largely by the nonprofit YorkCounts, five municipalities, including the City of York, are now close to ordering a public safety study that would explore the possibility of a consolidated police force. To reach this point, however, regionalization advocates in York have had to work past considerable opposition and indifference from area municipalities.

The effort began in late 2007, when the Metro-York study group (an offshoot of YorkCounts) released a list of recommendations for improving York County. Priority number one was the formation of a York metropolitan police department.

YorkCounts representatives then invited 24 area municipalities to jointly pursue a study of police regionalization. Only nine of these municipalities accepted the invitation: York City, East Manchester Township, Manchester Township, Manchester Borough, Spring Garden Township, Springettsbury Township, Mount Wolf Borough, Dover Township, and West York Borough.

The $72,000 study would be conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum and would be funded by a Shared Municipal Services Grant from the PA Department of Community and Economic Development.

According to Dan Fink, a spokesman for YorkCounts, many municipal leaders in the area immediately resisted the proposal, even though it was merely an exploratory measure. Fink asserted that this is because the people of York “like their small municipal form of government, and they like to have control over the services that the government provides, including police.”

Also, Fink said, some leaders hesitated at the thought of sharing services with the city: “A lot of elected officials and constituents feel that this is an effort created to help the city [manage] crime that they can’t take care of on their own.” From Fink’s perspective, this kind of opposition stems from a distinct “us versus them” mentality.

In July, to the frustration of consolidation advocates, both West Manchester Township and the West Manchester Township Police Officers Association agreed that their forthcoming contract would contain a clause prohibiting their department from participating in any regionalized police force. Association President Matt Emig told the York Daily Record that the restriction was requested due to fears that regionalization could result in the loss of jobs.

Further complicating matters, it was recently announced that funding for the State’s Shared Municipal Services Grant has been zeroed out in the 2010 budget. Fink, however, is confident that alternative funding can and will be arranged.

Hurdles aside, the process in York has provided a model for how intermunicipal dialog can be initiated. YorkCounts—which Mayor Rick Gray once compared to the Lancaster Alliance—catalyzed the process simply by “knocking on a lot of doors,” as Fink described it. And, although this nonprofit took the lead in promoting a study for York, Fink noted that an effort like this could also be driven by officials in the public sector. In Berks County, for example, a county-wide regionalization study was recently solicited by the County Commissioners.

According to Fink, this effort has mostly required YorkCounts representatives to “meet people where they are,” finding ways to approach local leaders in a “non-threatening” environment. “I don’t think there’s any shortcut to getting it done,” Fink said, “Over here it really took a lot of persistence and one-on-one meetings where someone from [YorkCounts] would meet with municipal officials individually, explain what Metro-York recommended and what we’d like to do.”

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Regionalized police: Past precedent and present barriers

Posted on October 14th, 2009

Regionalized police: Past precedent and present barriers

The second in a series by Cliff Lewis

To find evidence of successful regional police departments, one need only look to the national scene, with a number of metropolitan areas consolidating their police forces. From Las Vegas to Savannah, regionalization is becoming a national trend—as Mayor Rick Gray said, “It’s the way things are going.” For the time being, however, it may not be the way things are going for small cities in the State of Pennsylvania.

Elsewhere in the US, now-regionalized departments have reported positive returns, largely from a public safety perspective.

Louisville Metro Police Chief Robert White told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I sincerely believe we are a better police department because of it.” In 2003, the Louisville department was merged with the surrounding Jefferson County. Since that time, the area has been able to reduce its total number of police department employees while increasing the total number of actual police officers on the street.

In Pennsylvania, most cases of regional consolidation exist in more sparsely populated areas. Where these consolidations have occurred, the results have been positive—often yielding both public safety enhancements and cost savings.

Mike Weiser, Chief Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Department, told NewsLanc that regionalization efforts in his area have definitely reduced expenses for the public. As an example, Weiser said, before consolidating in 1991, one borough paid $181,000 in annual police expenses; in 2010, that same borough is paying $212,000. An inflation-adjusted equivalent to the 1991 bill would amount to over $280,000.

Weiser added that the expanded department has helped refine police services: “The more officers you have, the better you can train them and equip them to go out and serve the public.” The Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Department serves about 30,000 area residents.

Harry Lewis, Chief of Police of the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, echoed Weiser’s comments on improved services:

“Our officers handle all facets of police work, so we can handle homicides to organized crime conspiracies, including gang enforcement. Our department is more equipped, trained and professional than prior to regionalization. We have the ability to send more officers to training which allows us to be specialized in every aspect of police work.”

Lewis’s department, which began consolidating in 1994, serves about 40,000 residents.

Lancaster’s hypothetical metropolitan police department could serve well over 100,000 residents, according to Mayor Rick Gray. All past precedent for consolidation in Pennsylvania, however, falls far below this figure due to State-level restrictions on police officer pension plans.

According to Ron Stern, a PA local government policy specialist, all regionalized police departments are required by the PA Auditor General to provide an Act 600 pension plan to their officers. Those provisions allotted by Act 600 fall short of those consistent with third class city code. Therefore, small cities would have to downgrade their officers’ pension plans in order to join nearby boroughs in a regional department.

Stern has recommended that the State Legislature reevaluate the Auditor General’s ruling as well as third class city code to allow for productive negotiations in the future.

This current limitation has not stopped community officials in York County from investigating the possibility of a metropolitan department. In an effort headed by YorkCounts, a York-based nonprofit coalition, various municipal leaders are close to authorizing a professional feasibility study to investigate this potential reform. The simple pursuit of this study, however, came with considerable opposition, which will be discussed in a later installment of this series.

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Regionalized police force: Background and benefits

Posted on October 7th, 2009

Regionalized police force: Background and benefits

The first in a series by Cliff Lewis

As Lancaster Township officials iron out the final details of a new police contract with Manheim Township, it may be easy to forget about the most far-reaching and provocative proposal raised during last month’s contract negotiations: The possibility of a consolidated, regional police force in the Lancaster metropolitan area.

The idea of regional police consolidation has existed since as early as the 1940s, when the UK Parliament provided for the consolidation of borough-level police forces into county constabularies. Stateside, in 1967, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice released a report that recommended the consolidation of local police departments.

By 2009, a number of larger metropolitan regions have formed consolidated police forces in the United States. Las Vegas, Charlotte, Louisville, and Indianapolis are among those areas that have combined their city and county departments.

Arguments in favor of regionalization lean heavily upon the potential for improved service and public safety enhancements. A consolidated department allows for more time-intensive officer training, which is easily neglected in small, low-staffed departments. Specialized services—such as accident reconstruction and juvenile detective work—can be shared by urban centers with their smaller municipal neighbors. Likewise, a regionalized department offers all parties access to expensive police technology that may not have been otherwise affordable.

An obvious benefit of consolidation is improved coordination. According to a report on regionalization by the Pennsylvania Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, “It is not uncommon within any given area of Pennsylvania for five or six police officers to be investigating a series of criminal offenses all committed by the same person when the investigation could be handled by one officer….Consolidation improves coordination of police efforts.”

Though the potential of regionalization to improve police operations is generally unquestioned, its potential to reduce expenses remains a point of debate. Julie Hill, a spokeswoman for the regionalized Charlotte police department, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal, “I don’t think we ever did it for cost savings.” Police Commissioner Mike Carpenter, an advocate for consolidation in the Memphis area, was quoted as saying, “Anybody trying to sell (a merger) on the basis of cost-savings is not being completely honest about it.”

Ron Stern, a PA local government policy specialist, is convinced that regionalization results in reduced costs. Stern, who specializes as a consultant for police consolidation efforts, told NewsLanc that he never promises first-year savings to the municipalities that he works with; however, he is “99% sure” that overall costs are reduced within 10 years. Stern said that long-term studies have consistently demonstrated a 24%-25% cost reduction.

Local officials will face considerable hurdles should they choose to pursue a regionalized department. From the sensitive opinions of the local masses to the tight State-level restrictions on police officer contracts, the process will not be easy. But, considering the potential benefits of this institutional reform, it may be worth the effort. As Mayor Rick Gray put it, “It’s the way things are going, and it gets around lines that were drawn in the 1700s….”

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