Merging city, borough police makes sense
East Washington Borough may not have much land area or population, but it has just as much controversy as any other municipality, and its police department has commanded more than its share of attention and scrutiny in the past few years.
In October 2011, East Washington police Chief Donald Solomon was arrested by the FBI following a sting operation and later convicted on corruption charges. Just a few months later, on Dec. 11, part-time officer David Dryer, 46, was killed and another officer shot during a confrontation on Interstate 70 at the Beau Street interchange. These events made many residents realize that their sleepy little borough was not immune to today’s violence and crime, and that they need 21st-century police protection.
The borough currently employs a full-time chief and 16 part-time officers at an annual cost of around $200,000 – a quarter of East Washington’s annual budget. In an effort to alleviate administrative problems and find more efficiency, council members commissioned an independent study, which was completed this summer. The study recommended that the police department update its equipment, streamline personnel files and increase the chief’s administrative duties, but it stopped short of suggesting it outsource police protection to a neighboring community.
But contracting out police protection is being given some consideration by council, despite the protest of many residents.
East Washington is fortunate in that its neighboring municipalities – South Strabane Township and the city of Washington – both maintain highly trained and modernly equipped full-time departments. South Strabane supervisors were approached about making a proposal to expand coverage to include the borough, but they decided last week not to do so. The city, on the other hand, is eager to make a proposal, and East Washington council members would be doing their constituents a disservice by not giving it careful consideration.
East Washington’s current police budget works out to $91 per resident per year. Meeting the recommendations of the study commission, supplying training and purchasing modern equipment will cost residents much more.
If the city can offer 24-7 service and increased patrols at roughly the same cost, the borough would be foolish to refuse it.
With an annual budget of $2.185 million, the per-resident cost of police protection in the city is $160. There’s a saying that applies here: You get what you pay for. By contracting with the city, East Washington residents would be getting that $160 level of police service at a much lower cost.
We understand why many citizens of East Washington, which already uses the city’s fire department, are reluctant to merge their government with a city that has balanced on the edge of bankruptcy and whose council can be charitably called dysfunctional. But the Washington Police Department is not City Council; it’s a well-administered corps of full-time, trained professionals.
Pennsylvania’s municipal structure might have worked well in the days before modern communication and transportation, but it is a hindrance to good government today. That Washington County has 66 separate municipalities speaks for itself. This newspaper has, for many years, editorially endorsed the work of communities to save tax dollars and improve services through merger and by combining their efforts.
We hope the city and the borough can come to an agreement that will almost certainly be beneficial to both.