How to Pay for Police Protection When Your Community Eliminates its Police Force
by Sen. Judy Schwank, 11th Senatorial District
Like most places in Pennsylvania, Berks County is feeling the pinch of a bad economy. Reading's economic struggles remain even though we have made great strides by working together on public safety and economic development. Unemployment continues to be too high everywhere. Crime is also rising in our hometowns.
Not surprisingly, the rise in crime is happening as our smaller communities are folding their police departments because they can no longer afford to uniform law enforcers. Instead of providing local police patrols, places like Maxatawny, Longswamp and my township, Ruscombmanor, are turning to the Pennsylvania State Police to provide coverage.
Fewer police departments mean fewer full-time police officers, limited crime prevention efforts, and a less-than-usual response to crime of all sorts. That's an invitation for crooks.
Using state police to protect us is not a bad way to go if you don't consider how much more it costs state police every time a municipality turns to it for help.
I proposed a bill a few weeks ago that would make the cost of replacing local police departments with state police troopers more equitable.
Senate Bill 841 is my opening bid to balance the law enforcement needs of financially strapped communities with the dramatically rising costs that are draining the Pennsylvania State Police budget.
If approved – and it needs to be approved and signed into law by the governor – SB841 would require municipalities with populations of at least 5,000 to use state-provided motor license revenue equal to the cost of state police coverage. This means that those communities that rely on the state for police services would receive less road improvement funding, but it means communities will be safer because they will get quality law enforcement.
I've heard some criticism that the population minimum was an attempt by me to keep Ruscombmanor Township from having to pay out a portion of its motor license fund to pay for state police protection. That's not what I was thinking, at all. I would love it if Ruscombmanor Township joined forces with Oley or Fleetwood to form a regional police department or even contracted with these municipalities for police coverage.
In fact, larger communities that could pay their fair share for state police protection, if they are using troopers to patrol their streets, should. Smaller, more rural communities that would be hard-pressed to pay for state police coverage would be exempt from my bill.
That's the bottom line of my legislation.
Most people think municipalities should pay for state police coverage if they use it, but it seems not as many people agree with that when it comes to their own communities. The same can be said for regional police forces.
I would walk away from this bill if more of our communities banded together to brand themselves with unique, strategic and more cost-effective policing practices. On the other hand, my bill would encourage more regional police departments.
There are a multitude of studies supporting regional policing.
A 2010 study by the Pennsylvania Economy League and the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development concluded that “regional police forces have the quantity and quality of officers to ensure coverage in the event of a series of issues occurring simultaneously. Full-time officers have more time for investigation and training, [sic] therefore, regional police forces have the ability to spend more time investigating crimes that lead to more arrests.”
Berks County is like York County, based on population. However, 35 percent of all of York County's police forces were regional in 2006 while just 6 percent were regional in Berks County, according to the study. The combined cost for all York County police coverage that year was $39.1 million; in Berks County it was $56.5 million.
Because more York County police forces had regionalized, those departments plus the stand-alone police forces were able to provide full-time officers nearly ‘round the clock.
Regionalizing police departments is not as simple as snapping your fingers. There are significant hurdles to clear, including coordinating wages, benefits and working conditions. But these are things that can and must happen. The Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs agrees with me.
“The association supports the removal of any regulatory or legislative barriers to the creation of regional police departments,” PSAB said in its 2012 Municipal Policy Statement.
The association also agrees that municipalities that do use state police to replace their police departments should also pay.
“It is the association's position that large communities over 5,000 population that rely on the State Police for police services should be charged a fee on a per capita basis,” its policy statement reads.
In the long run, using state police to provide local law enforcement hits everyone's bottom line; even the taxpayers who live in the communities that no longer have their own force. It's increasingly expensive and unreasonable. Change is needed.
Senate Bill 841 would give state police the money it needs to ensure our protection. It would also free up dollars to help the state better maintain its roads and bridges.
Grant funds will buy policing, security cameras
by Promise Yee
OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Police Department was awarded $272,000 in Citizens' Option for Public Safety, or COPS, grant funds that City Council approved receiving April 17.
These noncompetitive state grant funds are awarded to California cities based on their population.
Like most government funds, COPS grant dollar amounts have declined over the past few years. Still, funds received make a positive impact by paying for additional community policing and purchasing essential equipment.
The grant money is doled out in quarterly payments with the final amount subject to adjustment based in part on state revenue from vehicle funds.
Last year the city was initially awarded $300,000, but the final amount was reduced to about $272,000. As a result a couple of projects listed on last year's grant application could not be funded.
The city has already received its first grant payment this fiscal year, but Police Capt. Fred Armijo said the department would not spend promised grant money before it is received.
“There is a history of adjustments,” Armijo said. “I wouldn't be shocked if we got a reduction this year.”
Initial funds will be used to help pay for school resource officers and gang and violent crime suppression detail.
Beyond resource officers and extra detail, equipment for one project at a time will be funded. On the list are field evidence cameras, anticrime and graffiti cameras, and police canine equipment.
“We rely on the grant to help fund a major portion of the salary of one of three resource officers,” Armijo said. “It's a big chunk of money to help support the program. It also gives us more flexibility to help purchase equipment to do our job efficiently and benefit the city.”
Armijo added the police chief would make the final decision on what gets funded and what is dropped from the grant request list if funding falls short.
“There's always other ideas out there and a limited amount of funds,” Armijo said.
Menlo Park's police chief calls for use of Tasers and surveillance cameras
by Bonnie Eslinger
Menlo Parks' new police chief says he'd like to arm his officers with Taser stun guns and install security cameras and license plate readers at the city's main entrance points.
Chief Robert Jonsen, who joined the city in February, cited Tiburon as an example of what he'd like to see in Menlo Park. In 2010 the North Bay town installed cameras that take pictures of license plates of vehicles that enter and exit its borders.
"If criminals knew that everybody that went into the city, no matter where ... that their license would be captured, I think it would be well protected," Jonsen said.
The Menlo Park City Council tonight is scheduled to receive a report on the city's police department prepared by public safety consultants Belcher, Ehle, Medina & Associates. The $25,282 organizational review was contracted by the city in November while it was searching for a new police chief, according to Assistant City Manager Starla Robinson.
The Santa Cruz-based firm found that the Menlo Park Police Department is meeting "what is considered Best Practices" in most areas, according to the firms's report, which also states that "No systemic issues of corruption, malfeasance or other inappropriate conduct were uncovered during the review."
The consultants are recommending that the department establish a proactive community policing program; install surveillance cameras "in high crime areas," as well as automated license plate readers and gun-shot detection technology; and issue Tasers to officers.
Jonsen said he "absolutely" wants his officers to have Tasers, which critics contend are too often used by police on nonviolent suspects. Jonsen said policies could be set to restrict how officers use the weapons and he noted that the benefits outweigh any potential for abuse.
"I think the less we have to put our hands on people, the high-risk person that we're going to have to use force on because they're not going to go with compliance, Tasers give us that opportunity to take somebody into custody," Jonsen said.
While San Francisco's police chief dropped his proposal for stun guns earlier this month because of community concerns over how they would be used, and Berkeley residents have long fought arming officers with Tasers, San Mateo County cities have embraced the use of such weapons. Menlo Park and East Palo Alto are the only two county cities that don't arm officers with Tasers. A 2011 civil grand jury report suggested that both cities fall in line with the others.
Jonsen said he also agrees that the department should move toward community policing, where officers spend more time interacting with citizens to earn their trust and collaboratively create crime-stopping measures. As a result of staff shortages 10 years ago, police had their hands full just responding to calls, the chief said. The department is now fully staffed.
Last year, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto announced they were cracking down in response to an uptick in shootings believe to be linked to a feud between rival gangs. Jonsen said that although violent crime has been down in recent months, police are preparing for a surge that usually hits in the summer.
Before coming to Menlo Park, Jonsen worked as a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department captain.
The council will meet in regular session at 7 p.m. in council chambers at 701 Laurel St.