Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Butler Township Appoints Steering Committee to Explore Regional Police Force with Ashland

A follow up to our story we posted last week, Butler Township appointed a steering committee to explore a regional police force with the borough of Ashland.

Last Wednesday, during the borough's regular monthly council meeting, council appointed a steering committee for a regional police department with neighboring Butler Township.

This new regional police department, which would encompass Ashland, Butler Township, and Gordon, aims to address the challenge of providing 24-hour police coverage for the community as well as saving the communities money and providing better pay for officers.

Ashland steering committee was appointed to meet with Butler Township's, if they chose, to determine if it was feasible to create the combine police department.

This Wednesday, September 20th, 2023, Butler Township opted to take the next step as well and appointed their representatives, which includes Township Supervisor Dave Kessler and Attorney Eric Brown.

During last week's meeting, Council Members Adam Bernodin Jr. and Pat Cooney were selected to represent Ashland.

This step follows the recent release of a comprehensive report from the Pennsylvania Governor's Center for Local Government Services, commissioned jointly by Ashland Borough, Butler Township, and Gordon Borough. The study's objective was to assess the potential benefits of consolidating these municipalities into a "Regional Police Department" serving the entire area.

The proposed regional police force would serve a combined population of 8,804 residents, spanning 28.3 square miles of land with 95 road miles. These figures are based on data from the 2023 municipal survey, the 2020 U.S. Census, PennDOT records, and the 2022 FBI Uniform Crime Reports. The municipalities collectively operated on a budget of $1,694,086 in 2022.

Notable driving factors behind this initiative include shared community needs and challenges, increasing cultural diversity, local and county-wide drug enforcement concerns, regional traffic issues, fiscal constraints, and shortages of both part-time and full-time police officers. These pressing issues have prompted municipalities with limited resources to explore innovative solutions to enhance police services while maintaining fiscal stability. Regional policing has emerged as a viable option in many Pennsylvania communities, including Ashland.

Under the proposed plan, the regional police department would consist of 10 full-time police officers, 3 part-time school resource officers, and one administrative assistant/police secretary. Funding for all personnel, including benefits, is expected to commence in 2024 if approved, coinciding with the department's first full year of operation.

Key highlights of the proposed budget include:
  • Ensuring a minimum of 2 officers on duty 24/7, with flexibility for additional officers during peak times or emergencies.
  • Continued School Resource Officer coverage in North Schuylkill schools, fully reimbursed by the North Schuylkill School District.
  • Reduction of the total number of police vehicles from 7 to 6, with plans to re-paint and equip these vehicles.
  • Inclusion of all costs and expenses associated with using the 1,700 square foot police department facility at the Ashland Borough municipal building as the new regional police headquarters.
  • Qualification for various Federal, State, and County Regional Police Assistance grants.
Personnel costs for the regional force are projected as follows:
  • Police Chief: $90,000
  • Lieutenant: $85,000
  • Sergeant: $80,000
  • Full-Time Officer Salary: $75,000
  • Part-Time School Resource Officers (Reimbursed by North Schuylkill): $20 per hour
  • Combined personnel costs with benefits for all full-time officers: $1,370,000 (Total savings of $324,086)
The proposed budget for 2024 stands at $1,620,000, reflecting a decrease of $41,086 compared to the combined total budget of $1,661,086 in 2022.

The regional coverage area would be divided into two parts, each overseen by an officer, with an additional floating officer. The first division includes Ashland Borough, Lavelle, Locustdale, and the Butler Township areas near Girardville. The second division covers the Fountain Springs area and Gordon Borough, and the surrounding areas.

Regional police services necessitate the dissolution of political subdivision boundaries for policing and the unification of existing police forces into a single regional police department. The department's operation would be overseen by a newly formed "regional police commission," consisting of elected officials from each participating municipality.

Advantages of Regional Police Services

The move towards regional policing brings several advantages, including:
  • Uniformity and Consistency: Standardizing law enforcement policies and practices, reducing citizen dissatisfaction, and encouraging law compliance.
  • Coordination: Eliminating jurisdictional boundaries for more effective criminal investigations and efficient use of public funds.
  • Personnel Efficiency: Improved recruitment and deployment of officers, thanks to a broader tax base.
  • Training: Enhanced ability to meet mandatory training requirements, reducing costs and maintaining appropriate staffing levels.
  • Management and Supervision: Greater focus on administration and supervision in larger departments, attracting experienced candidates for leadership positions.
  • Cost Reduction: Consolidation decreases individual costs by reducing duplication of infrastructure and support services.

Disadvantages of Regional Police Services

Some concerns raised against regionalization but not particularly to our area include:
  • Loss of Local Services: Certain non-traditional police duties may be discontinued to maximize officers' time for core policing functions.
  • Loss of Local Control: Local governing bodies may have reduced involvement in day-to-day operations under a regional commission.
  • Loss of Citizen Contact: Temporary unfamiliarity between officers and citizens may occur initially, but familiarity should return over time.
  • Loss of Position: Concerns about job displacement can be addressed through negotiations and retention efforts.
Story by J. Reed / Skook News