Thursday, March 9, 2023

Frackville Council Hears Concerns About Borough Police

A large group of citizens from Frackville attended the borough council meeting on Wednesday evening after concerns about the police force began circulating online.

Like nearly all of the police departments in Schuylkill County, the Frackville Borough Police Department is also struggling to provide 24/7 coverage due to lack of police officers.  The borough currently has two full time officers and two part time on the payroll.

On February 28th, 2023, the resignation of long-time police officer of the borough, Anthony Kankowski, was brought to attention online, and increased the concerns of residents.  Kankowski had been a 17-year member of the police force and served as officer in charge of the borough, prior to the hiring of current Chief Police Paul Olson.

Accusations began to circulate on the new Chief's ability to lead the department, as well as other accusations that Kankowski and other officers that were working for the borough at the time, were not allowed to apply for the Chief's position, when former Chief Rick Bell resigned.

Frackville's council room was standing room only after approximately 50 people attended to learn more about what has been occurring.

Kankowski's letter of resignation was addressed and approved by council after Council President Ron Jordan commented and read the letter aloud.

"Unfortunately due to the need of health insurance for my wife and the most recent stress this job has brought me, I have no choice but to seek other employment where I can gain health insurance and decrease stress and advance my position.  It's been a pleasure working with you and the officers in the department the last 17 years."  Kankowski wrote in the letter.

He also noted that he would assist in any transitions the department needed.

"I had a good relationship with Tony, knew him professionally and personally.  Unfortunately moving onto better pastures, and on behalf of council, we wish him the best and wish him success on moving on".  Council President Jordan said.

Later during the public speaking portion of the meeting, two borough residents spoke on the concerns for the police department.  First to speak was Nicole Russell.

"I am here tonight to address the Frackville Borough Council regarding our current situation with our police coverage or should I say - the lack thereof.  I am aware that your jobs are not easy, and I am sure a great deal of time and effort goes into the decision you must make regarding the Borough and its citizens.  My concern is this, your lack of action to secure appropriate police coverage for the residents of this Borough has left us at great risk for crimes such as vandalism, thefts, and unknown activities especially during the nighttime hours." Russell said.

She went on to comment about an applicant, who she did not identify, for an officer's position that they did not hire.  She then addressed the council directly.

"As a direct statement, I am personally informing you that you have and are burning your bridges with the officers you had.  They are currently overworked and under-insured.  You have lost control of what is needed and requested of you as our elected officials.  Stop delaying and remove your personal agendas from this matter.".  Russell's comments drew an applause from the meeting attendees.

The second person to speak was Tylor Blackwell, who asked questions directly to council about the department.

Blackwell asked why the council outsourced the position of Chief and not within.  

Solicitor Mark Semanchik responded "The answer to that is pretty easy, we advertised, so any applicant inside the department, or anyone outside the department that met the qualifications could apply."

Blackwell followed up the answer in regard to Kankowski's 10 years of experience as a Chief of Police of the Borough of Gordon and 17 working for Frackville.

"A veteran like that does not just leave Frackville for a better job and for healthcare reason" Blackwell stated.

Semachek responded "I think the letter [Kankowski's resignation] speaks for itself, but secondly, Mr. Kankowski did not apply for the position of Chief of Police. He did not submit an application so no interview was given to him because he did not show interest."

Blackwell then questioned why other applicants were not chosen, who were acting Chiefs of other nearby municipalities.

 Semanchik responded, "Six applicants applied, one of which is the current Chief.  All 6 applications were interviewed multiple times, not only here in Frackville but also by an independent committee near Schuylkill Haven that consisted of other Chiefs of Police and members of the District Attorney's Office.  Those recommendations were considered by Frackville Borough as a separate independent civil service commission."

Blackwell reiterated information he received online that 6 officers had left the force since Chief Olson took over. 

Semachik responded "That is not true, since the hiring of Chief Olson in February of 2022, an Officer left to take a security position in July of 2022, and the other officer to leave was Kankowski in February of 2023".

Blackwell had one final question asking the council directly if they plan on hiring more police officers.  

"The borough is still in favor of a 24/7 operation, we never gone away from that, and will continue to look at applications and look at the officers we want to hire.  There is no doubt, the last thing we want to do is continue to overwork the force we have.  Officer Dellock[the borough's other full time police officer] has been doing a really good job, and the Chief has been doing a really good job filling in hours also."  Council President Jordan said.