It was standing room only Wednesday at the Mt. Pleasant Township Board of Supervisors meeting. Area residents crammed into the modest meeting room inside the township building and lined the adjourning hallways to show support and voice concerns for the possible dissolution of the township’s police department.
But before they had an opportunity to speak, Supervisor Gary Farner put the majority of the crowd at ease by announcing the township had no plans to eliminate their police force. In fact, three new officers were hired Wednesday.
While there was some confusion as to how the proposal to dissolve the police department came about, Supervisor Dencil Backus said the board is in the process of trying to the move the township police department forward.
“We want to go more towards 24/7 coverage,” he said. “We are investigating a number of different possibilities.”
Backus said he started receiving calls at the beginning of March from residents questioning him about a proposal that would allow the McDonald Police Department to patrol the area, and dissolve the township’s current police force. While he said he doesn’t know where the proposal originated, Backus and Farner said they had the opportunity to view the proposal, which Farner called a contracted service.
Backus said he wasn’t surprised by the large number of people in attendance.
“It stimulated a lot of interest and controversy,” he said.
Rick Walsh, a Hickory resident and business owner, questioned what the response and outcome could have been if the community had not been informed of the proposal. Walsh said he posted a comment on Facebook in early March after the proposal came to his attention, hoping to keep people informed.
“I was concerned with transparency,” Walsh said. “Now everyone knows about the proposal, that it was looked at, and the people were heard. That’s why I think it was taken off the table.”
Mt. Pleasant Township resident Bill Merriman said it is vital the community retain its own force. He recounted a recent interaction, one he feels could have had a different outcome if it weren’t for the officers’ familiarity with the area.
“Two young men appeared at my house,” he said. “My wife was home alone with my two children. I live in the middle of a hay field. The police were there in six minutes. Only a local police department would know where to come.”
While some individuals thought a merger with McDonald or allowing the McDonald Police Department to patrol the area would be cost effective and more efficient at controlling the area’s growing crime problem, Mt. Pleasant Township Police Chief Louis McQuillan disagreed. Constrained by the township’s budget, McQuillan said his staff of three full-time officers and three part-time officers know the area better than anyone else and work very hard.
“Currently, we provide 24/5 coverage, with the additional two days coverage based on availability,” McQuillan said. “Once the new officers are trained, we will be closer to 24/7.”
McQuillan said he was not immediately informed of the proposal and learned about it through rumors. He said he was humbled by the community response Wednesday.
“We aren’t always popular,” he said. “So it was a nice tribute to the department.”