Criminals in the Independence Township area take notice: There’s a new sheriff in town.
At their December meeting, Independence Township supervisors voted to approve a roughly $80,500 contract with McDonald Police Department to provide police services for the municipality. On Tuesday, residents may have noticed something that hasn’t happened in a long time: police officers patrolling the area.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Independence Supervisor Lou Brandenburg. “We haven’t had police here in 30 years.”
Similar to the contract that Burgettstown Borough signed in December, Independence will receive 60 hours of officer patrols each week with additional work charged to the township at a rate of $25 per hour.
Prior to McDonald taking over, residents who called 911 were directed to the state police barracks in Washington. Now, McDonald police will handle most emergency situations.
“For those communities that aren’t really used to having law enforcement and have never had the compliments of a local department, a contract is a kind of test to see if they like it,” said McDonald police Chief Mark Dorsey. “In most cases, the people really like it because it’s something they never have had before.”
The contract between Independence and McDonald townships is valid for one year.
Independence Supervisor Tom Jennings said the police contract was a great way for the municipality to spend its allotment of impact fee money from Marcellus Shale drilling.
“The geography of the situation is we’re a long way out in terms of response time” from the state police barracks, Jennings said. “The people around the town are very enthused to see more of a proactive situation with the police coverage vs. a reactive one. This is a better security situation for our township.”
Independence is the fourth municipality to sign a police contract with McDonald. Robinson Township and Midway have both been working with McDonald for a number of years. Dorsey said he is in talks with a couple other local governments in the hopes of expanding the force further. He said the idea of a regional force is something had hoped for most of his 36-year career.
“I’m certainly going to work diligently toward that,” Dorsey said. I certainly have the enthusiasm I’ve always had for that to happen. I certainly didn’t expect to get where I’m at now with respect to the other communities coming in.”
In order to add capacity to the McDonald force, Dorsey said they recently promoted an officer from part time to full time and is looking to fill another full-time position.
By pooling resources, Dorsey said communities get more bang for their buck.
“There are advantages when you consolidate,” Dorsey said. “You’re improving uniformity and you have more consistent police enforcement. You’re also improving in coordination, in personnel distribution, in efficiency and, of course, management is improved greatly. The cost is kept much lower than you would have if you had your own department.”
Dorsey said the residents are the ultimate winners when municipalities pool resources and work together to fight crime and that he was looking forward to working with the people of Independence.
“It’s very important to me that we have the support of the community,” Dorsey said. “That’s vital to any police department. It’s imperative that citizens know and understand that we’re going to fulfill our contractual obligations to the letter. This sends a clear message to those who want to do harm in the community.”