East Washington Borough residents crowded into the borough building Tuesday night in a show of support for the police department amid rumors that borough council is considering eliminating the police force.
Residents made it clear they want to retain the chief of police and 16 part-time officers, who patrol the municipality around the clock.
Mayor Mark Pacilla said he believes the residents’ concerns about the police department stem from a police management study completed for the borough that includes a section on alternative methods of providing police service to the community. Among those options are contracting police services or consolidating with another police force into a regional police department.
Pacilla assured residents no decision has been made to eliminate the department and said council is reviewing the study and all of the recommendations included, which are aimed at improving the management of police services in the borough.
“Nobody at this table is saying they want to get rid of the police department, but our job is to look at every possibility and make sure the borough residents are getting the best bang for their buck, the best of everything that we have. If for some reason the police department, as it sits right now, has a problem, let’s make corrective action, see what the cost is. If it’s better to outsource it, let’s look at all the possibilities,” said Pacilla.
Residents voiced concerns that eliminating the police department will decrease their property value, will affect residents’ safety and could result in the borough becoming a part of the city of Washington, with whom East Washington shares a fire department.
Borough resident Timothy Hearney presented council with a petition requesting the borough to retain the police department.
Council said a public hearing regarding the police department will be scheduled at a later date.
The borough decided to conduct a police study in the wake of several incidents, including the arrest of former police chief Donald Solomon, who is serving a prison sentence for extortion, and the death of Officer John David Dryer, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop in 2011.
Peters Township police chief Harry Fruecht, who prepared the study as a consultant for the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services Police Management Peer-to-Peer Program, attended the meeting to answer questions.
Fruecht said the two most significant areas the police department must address are hiring practices – no established hiring process exists – and the policy manual, which he said should be re-written.
According to the report, the cost for police services, $201,370 in 2012, acounted for about 26 percent of the borough’s budget, which falls within the state average.
Fruecht said one area of concern was the department’s clearance rate on Part-I and Part-II offenses including homicide, rape, assault, DUI and other crimes, which fell far below the state average in 2011. Police Chief Mark Griffith said he believes that is due, in part, to an error in the manner in which those offenses were reported.
Griffith, who has served on the force for 30 years, defended the department, the professionalism of its officers and its importance to the community.
“I love this community. I love the people here. The police department is vital to this borough,” said Griffith. “I want to see this borough succeed and I want this police department to succeed.”