East Washington ponders recommendations in police study

July 24, 2013
A police cruiser sits in front of the East Washington Borough building Wednesday. - Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

An independent study examining East Washington’s embattled police department suggests updating equipment and increasing the chief’s administrative duties, but stops short of recommending the borough outsource its police protection to a neighboring community. The police study was presented to East Washington Council during the borough’s Tuesday night special meeting, and municipal officials now must ponder whether to take action on the recommendations.

The study, requested by the council earlier this year and conducted by Peters Township police Chief Harry Fruecht, offers both positive and negative remarks about merging the department with another, but gives no details or financial information on how to conduct the process.

Instead, it mainly focuses on how to improve the current police department by updating equipment, improving its structure, defining a mission statement and expanding the acting police chief’s powers. East Washington Mayor Mark Pacilla would not speculate on what, if any, recommendations borough officials would consider and did not have a timeline on the process.

“It would be irresponsible not to look at it and take it seriously,” Pacilla said. “There are some hard choices that we’ll have to make sooner or later.”

The study alludes to – but does not specifically address – the criminal activity of former chief Donald Solomon, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to three counts of extortion. Solomon was sentenced to more than 11 years in federal prison for offering to help protect drug dealers, who were really undercover FBI agents, exchange what he thought was cocaine on two separate occasions in 2011.

Since then, the police department has been under the supervision of Mark Griffith in his role as acting police chief. The study concludes that the police chief should have more control over the department budget and be more involved with training. The borough spends about $200,000 a year – more than 25 percent of its annual budget – on police protection and employs 16 part-time officers.

Although the report gives only bullet points for outsourcing its police protection to another community, it acknowledges the department “lacks flexibility” and needs to change in order to survive.

“Council must realize and accept that providing any of the recommends imposes a strain on this department,” the report states. “Council must find the means to overcome these obstacles if this department is to improve.”

It concludes that borough leaders have difficult decisions ahead if they want to maintain a local police department.

“They are responsible for determining if the community can continue to afford the costs associated with maintaining its own police force,” the report concludes.

If consolidation is not an option, the department must streamline background checks and personnel files for officers, improve how it documents citizen complaints and purchase mobile medical equipment for each police car, the report said. It was not immediately clear how much money the proposed recommendations would cost.

“It’s going to take some time to look through it and come up with some ideas later,” Pacilla said. “Right at this time, we want to just review the study, and I’ll probably have a lot of questions after.”

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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