East Washington residents ask for delay on police department decision

October 21, 2013
Stanley Myers speaks to East Washington Council during its Monday night voting meeting about the borough’s police department. - Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Several East Washington residents pleaded with local officials Monday night to delay any decisions on the borough police department’s fate until at least next year.

The residents raised their concerns during council’s voting meeting after it was revealed Washington officials want to submit a contract proposal to take over police services in East Washington.

However, councilmembers were adamant no decision was made on what will happen to the police department and that a special meeting Nov. 18 would offer more information on the situation and solicit feedback from residents.

Still, borough resident Michael Gomber, who recently organized a petition drive to keep the department, said he’s concerned about the town’s security if they make changes to the police department or outsource patrols to a neighboring community. Gomber is running unopposed as a Republican for mayor and asked the council to explain the situation to residents and get their feedback.

“Get the community involved and ask them what they think,” Gomber said.

He also suggested that council puts any decisions on hold until after next month’s municipal election. Kelley Dickson and Jeff Bull lost their re-election bids, and Ben Brown decided against running for the seat he was appointed to last year.

That means the council is likely to have three new members next year and could change the dynamics of the voting body.

“I think you should put this on hold until the new individuals are elected,” Gomber said. “It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s not known what it will mean (outsourcing police services).”

Council President Blake McCandless took exception to Gomber’s petition drive and denied that eliminating the police department and outsourcing services was imminent. He said there are many options that borough officials are pursuing.

“It’s dead wrong,” McCandless said. “Where did you get that information?”

“Then why are you pursuing this in the first place?” Gomber asked.

“Because we’ve got a problem,” McCandless responded.

“Plural,” Councilman Jeff Bull said. “We have problems.”

A state Department of Community and Economic Development police study conducted by Peters Township police Chief Harry Fruecht and released in July suggested the borough’s police department update its equipment, streamline personnel files and increase the chief’s administrative duties, but stopped short of recommending it outsource police protection to a neighboring community.

But contracting out police services has seemingly gained momentum after Washington officials confirmed their intentions to make a proposal. South Strabane Township supervisors voted earlier this month to forgo making a proposal.

“I need to see information why you’re considering this,” Gomber said.

Councilman Ben Brown said that’s why they’re holding the special public meeting Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. inside First Christian Church to deliver information and garner feedback.

“That’s what the meeting is for,” Brown said. “We’re not making any decisions that night.”

But resident Stanley Myers asked they push those discussions into next year.

“This probably is not the best time to make a decision like this that is so fundamentally important to the borough,” Myers said.

Reca Panian, who has lived in East Washington for 27 years, said she enjoys having their own police department because of the personalized service it offers.

“Take more time on this decision,” Panian said. “I like having our own police department … ask that no decision be made in haste,” she said.

Residents and borough officials plan to walk the neighborhood and hand out pamphlets making the community aware of next month’s special meeting.

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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