East Washington’s police overhaul in limbo

The borough council has not been able to agree on what changes to make to the police department

June 17, 2014
A police vehicle sits outside the borough building in East Washington. - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Plans to reorganize East Washington’s police force are apparently in limbo after borough officials could not agree on whether to begin the process of hiring new officers for the department.

Council President Bill Adams said no action was taken during Monday night’s meeting to advertise for the new positions and an executive session to discuss police personnel ended with no resolution.

Council did vote to promote Mark Griffith from officer in charge to police chief, until July 7, when he plans to retire. Griffith recently was on medical leave and is not expected to return to duty before that date.

Adams said council members hope to make a decision on the police chief position at that meeting, although he was not sure if they would be able to come to a consensus by then. He added that the previous agreement to hire two full-time police officers and up to seven part-time officers appears to be in limbo right now.

“We’re still discussing what to do and investigating what to do,” Adams said. “Obviously, we’re continuing as we are.”

That would mean the department likely will remain indefinitely with its current roster of one full-time police chief and 16 part-time officers. However, Griffith’s retirement makes it unclear who will eventually work as police chief and when that decision will be made. Council is expected to again discuss the matter at its July 7 meeting.

East Washington Mayor Michael Gomber, who oversees the police department, said he had no comment on the situation.

The delay in making a decision is puzzling since the council voted unanimously May 19 to retain the police department with the expectation of adding one full-time officer while cutting several part-time positions. That plan was estimated to cost about $52,000 more over a full year compared to the current arrangement. Borough officials previously said they wanted to have the new personnel roster in place by August, although that deadline now appears to be impossible to achieve.

Council earlier this year rebuffed plans to use Washington’s police department, which late last year extended a contract offer to East Washington to take over police services for $118,433 this year. South Strabane supervisors declined to offer a proposal on what it would cost for their police officers to patrol in East Washington after initially expressing interest.

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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