City might charge East Washington for some police services

January 23, 2014
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The decision by East Washington Borough Council to delay voting on whether to accept Washington’s contract offer to provide police services might have costly implications.

Washington Mayor Brenda Davis indicated officials are discussing whether to charge the neighboring borough any time it requests to use the city’s detective unit or other police services.

Davis said East Washington already is using numerous police resources from Washington at no cost, which she considers an unfair burden for city taxpayers.

She pointed to a rash of burglaries last year in East Washington in which Washington’s detectives processed the scenes and investigated. Davis also said suspects arrested by East Washington police officers are routinely held in the city department’s holding cell and sometimes arraigned using its video equipment.

Davis said she has received multiple calls in recent weeks from Washington residents asking why the city is not already charging East Washington for using its resources.

“Unfortunately, their situation has ruffled some feathers in the city,” Davis said. “This has opened a whole new avenue for people in the city to wonder why (East Washington) residents are getting supplemental services for no charge. Our individuals are paying pretty handsomely for a full-time police department and full-time detective unit. Residents are asking why we’re paying for them.”

Davis said they’re now keeping track of how often East Washington uses the city’s detective unit and other police resources to determine if the borough should pay for those services. She said she’ll discuss the issue with Washington City Council, and a future agreement on those periodic services likely will have to be worked out with East Washington if it wants to keep the current arrangement.

“It’s unfortunate that this situation has come to this point,” Davis said. “But I have to be mindful that our services are not being spent in other municipalities.”

The development comes as East Washington officials announced they are working to update the borough’s police manual and job description for its chief. East Washington Mayor Michael Gomber said they still have made no decisions on what ultimately will happen to the department or if they’ll accept Washington’s contract offer.

Washington officials in October offered to provide police services for the neighboring borough this year for $118,433. However, the previous East Washington council voted in December to delay any decision in order to allow incoming members to review the situation.

Davis said the city’s previous contract offer has expired, and a new deal would have to be drafted if East Washington is still interested in using the city’s police services.

“Every day they wait, the price is going up,” Davis said, alluding to rising costs within the city’s police department. “The longer they wait, the more it is going to cost.”

Gomber, who would not comment on the potential surcharges from the city, said he and council expect to spend the next few months investigating the financial implications before presenting their findings to the residents. He said he would prefer using a ballot referendum for the residents to decide, if possible, or holding a public hearing at which an informal vote is taken.

“We’ll collect it and then present it to the borough,” Gomber said. “We’ll just have to wait.”

Until then, Gomber said borough leaders are trying to improve the chief’s job description by adding “a few extra things” to the current manual.

“We’re doing our due diligence so everyone can make an intelligent decision,” Gomber said. “It’s all going to be on the numbers. No decision can be made until we see the numbers.”

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 police department update its equipment, streamline personnel files and increase the chief’s administrative duties. It stopped short of recommending it outsource police protection to a neighboring community.

The announcement that Washington offered a contract to provide police services provoked outrage from East Washington residents who wanted to keep their police department.

The police department includes a full-time chief and 16 part-time officers. The borough spent about $200,000 on the department in 2013, which represented more than 25 percent of its total operating budget.

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 He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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