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Future of police: Now all we need are the details: Editorial

Press & Journal Editorial Board
Posted 2/28/17

So now we have a time frame for police talks undertaken by Middletown borough.

Now we just need the details.

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Future of police: Now all we need are the details: Editorial

Posted

So now we have a time frame for police talks undertaken by Middletown borough.

Now we just need the details.

We are happy that the borough council gave a 90-day time limit to Mayor James H. Curry III and Council President Ben Kapenstein, who launched the talks in December, targeting Lower Swatara Township.

It’s unlikely that a regional police department would be the end result. It appears that both sides would prefer a contract for services.

In the midst of all this, we are very glad to see that one full-time position was filled with the movement of Officer Adam Tankersley from part-time to full-time. His part-time position also will be filled. As we said in a previous editorial, we understand the complexities of bringing someone on full time while outside talks are going on, but the issue of public safety also needs to be kept at the fore.

However, we are less thrilled by the interest that Steelton is showing in a regional department. Steelton Mayor Tom Acri sees some kind of police regionalization as inevitable, in that small towns like Steelton can no longer afford their own stand-alone force over the long-term. If there’s something happening regarding police regionalization, Steelton wants to be part of it and not on the outside looking in, Acri told the Press & Journal.

We have supported regionalization or a contract for services when the plan involved only Middletown and Lower Swatara Township. Past that — unless the possibility of adding in Royalton exists — we think it should stop at two. More than that risks stringing out officers from too many places, and the potential for too many styles of policing that could cause problems.

So now it would appear that Curry and Kapenstein and Lower Swatara officials have a lot of work to do. If it is indeed a contract for services, what would happen to the existing Middletown officers? For how long would the contract be? How would Lower Swatara grow its police force in its existing township building? There doesn’t appear to be enough room. What would happen to Middletown’s equipment?

And then, in the end, how much would it cost? And how much of a savings would make it worthwhile?

The question also begs: How much are you willing to spend if no deal happens?

To reach the level of staffing that seems to be needed, according to Interim Police Chief George Mouchette, would take a significant tax increase.

Curry put that number at $250 a year if you own a property worth $100,000. Twice that if your property is valued at $200,000, half if it’s valued at $50,000, and so on.

Recommendations from Mouchette are for adding seven new full-time positions; including a newly created executive officer lieutenant’s position, three new sergeants, a second detective, and two new full-time patrol officers.

We have been a supporter of regionalization or a contract for services as long as it saves money and the safety of the borough’s residents was not threatened. Those are the same stated goals shared by Curry and Kapenstein.

So where we head from here is going to depend a great deal on what the numbers say. How many calls do borough police respond to in a week? A month? A year? What kind of minimum coverage will Middletown officials want to ensure there is a more than adequate police presence in the borough at all times, and what will that cost?

We, like you, are anxious to find out. In less that 90 days, we should have some answers.

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