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Middletown police heading in the right direction: Editorial

Posted 10/11/17

We continue to be impressed with the development of the Middletown Police Department.

It starts at the top. We were supportive of the permanent hiring of George Mouchette as police chief earlier …

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Middletown police heading in the right direction: Editorial

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We continue to be impressed with the development of the Middletown Police Department.

It starts at the top. We were supportive of the permanent hiring of George Mouchette as police chief earlier this year, despite some people’s concerns about how much he was to be paid.

You want to know what $96,000 a year in salary for a police chief gets the residents of the borough? Look at the police sweep that flowed across Middletown on the night of Saturday, Sept. 23, into early Sunday, Sept. 24.

This night was spearheaded by Mouchette, who assembled a force of 20 to 25 officers. As our own Dan Miller reported, Middletown cops were joined by police from Highspire and Penn State Harrisburg, and a large contingent of officers from Dauphin County — including county and state parole, adult and juvenile probation, and several from the county sheriff’s department.

Such a concentrated show of police force hasn’t been seen on the streets of Middletown since 2010. It’s long overdue, and it cost the borough next to nothing.

The “saturation detail” resulted in eight arrests, for drugs, DUI, and public drunkenness. Police also served four criminal warrants, did checks of seven people on probation, checked one bar for people on probation and parole, conducted 16 traffic stops, and broke up two “large” parties.

Yes, this was just one night. Such details aren’t going to happen every weekend, of course. But, as was one of Mouchette’s goals, word got out quickly what was going on. Police said they saw a drop in activity on the streets as it got deeper and deeper into the night.

Mouchette was hands-on. He was out on the streets with his department, hitting the hot spots and busting the bad guys. It’s what you would expect from a retired New York City police detective.

He wants to do this again. As long as the cost is very low or within reason, it’s a worthy goal.

We hope sweeps such as this are a deterrent, that they make people who are breaking their probation think twice about doing it.

Were most of these folks hardened criminals? No. But maybe, just maybe, if a drunken driver thinks twice about getting behind the wheel because he or she wonders if a police sweep is going on that night, it could save a life.

One thing that struck us was how well the Middletown officers knew the people with whom they interacted. 

“It’s incredible. These officers know every single person in Middletown,” Mouchette told the Press & Journal that night.

While we were interested in seeing where police regionalization with Lower Swatara Township would lead, it’s hard to deny that Middletown having its own force is a reason why the officers are so familiar with those they saw that night.

It also goes to show the hard work these officers put in to know the people with whom they are dealing.

And more officers are on the way.

Borough council on Oct. 3 approved adding four more part-time patrol officers to add to the 17 officers — 14 full-time officers including Mouchette, and three part-time officers — now on the roster.

Mayor James H. Curry III said in September he will be asking for two new full-time positions as part of the 2018 budget process, as well as hiring for a full-time position budgeted for 2017 that was not filled. 

One of the key roles of the borough is to keep its residents safe. In fact, it’s probably the No. 1 job. So if costs can be controlled, we support the addition of more officers. 

We are a bit puzzled by the large number of part-time positions that the department could potentially have. Ten such positions are now authorized. Mouchette pointed out that part-timers get paid as they work, and they don’t get paid for health insurance, vacation, or any other benefits. It is a great training ground as well, as two officers who are now full-time — Tyler Zehring and Adam Tankersley — both first started as part-timers. Maybe the ratio will work out, but having nearly as many part-time officers as full-time ones seems an odd mix.

But let’s see what happens.

We have a structure in place, with Mouchette and two new sergeants, Scott Yoder and Dennis Morris. Mouchette is focusing on community policing and a new bicycle patrol. Borough council approved buying more than $17,000 worth of new equipment for the police department during council’s May 2 meeting, including nine new rifles to replace ones that are seven years old.

If Mouchette fills the new positions with solid hires, borough residents are looking at having a police force they can be proud of for years to come. The department is on the right track, and we hope it stays that way for many years.

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