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Police regionalization — Better protection at a cost we can afford: Nick DiFrancesco

By Nick DiFrancesco
Posted 3/7/17

It was encouraging that so many people came to Middletown Borough Council’s recent meeting to discuss the county’s study of police cooperation and regionalization.

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Police regionalization — Better protection at a cost we can afford: Nick DiFrancesco

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It was encouraging that so many people came to Middletown Borough Council’s recent meeting to discuss the county’s study of police cooperation and regionalization.
This standing-room-only-crowd demonstrates that police coverage is a high-stakes, big-dollar, emotion-laden issue; indeed, it could be a life-and-death one. That is why local leaders and citizens are to be applauded for being forward-thinking and discussing this issue thoroughly and openly, examining what it would mean day-to-day and from every facet — economics, public safety, personnel, local identity, employee morale, and on and on.
In this era of fake news and alternative facts, it is equally important to know what is and isn’t true about police regionalization.
As a former Dauphin County commissioner and a member of the county’s Police Regionalization Committee, formed in 2014 and led by District Attorney Ed Marsico and Commissioner Mike Pries, I have had the opportunity to examine this potentiality in great detail, based on solid data and our own unique local circumstances.
With 17 municipal police departments in Dauphin County, 12 of which are full-time, overlap and duplication are inevitable. And because change is difficult, it is understandable that residents may fear that a consolidated or contracted-out force would slow response time, or that responding police officers would be outsiders who don’t know them or the town.
But as other jurisdictions have demonstrated, if done right — and with police buy-in — regionalization has the power to actually improve response time, retain the police officers already in the department, add officers, boost coverage, and furnish additional resources and training.
Crime knows no geographic boundaries; crime-fighting should transcend borders as well. And not only could regionalization or cooperation save tax dollars; it could attract dollars, since the state and county give grants for municipal cooperation.
The cost of the police is usually the single biggest ingredient in any municipal budget — as much as a third or more. By sharing resources, townships and boroughs can tap into economies of scale by buying products and services “in bulk” and pooling, and could possibly reduce overtime costs.
Money saved in policing can be used for other pressing needs, such as paving roads, building parks or attracting jobs. Case in point: when Paxtang borough contracted with neighboring Swatara Township, the borough saved 40 percent of its policing budget with no loss in service.
As another case in point: Many specialized services are already regionalized, including 911 dispatching (which saved Middletown about $300,000), the Crisis Response Team, the accident reconstruction team, the drug task force, the forensics team, and more.
I want to thank Middletown and Lower Swatara Township officials for entering into this process openly, methodically, transparently and cautiously. As I believe local leaders have discovered, if we can save money for the same or better service, this idea is one that needs to remain alive.
As the borough checks off its list of must-haves, which could include a guarantee that officers would be physically present in Middletown at all times, that the jobs of the current officers would be protected, and more, their due diligence can lead to the most informed decision possible.
Other areas have also seen regional police reorganization work, such as York and Lancaster. Some leaders have even called it a “force multiplier.”
Timing is, as in all things, key. It is good to advance this ball when local governments are not facing an immediate fiscal crisis. Government officials at all levels should always be looking for ways to do things smarter and better. This is why Dauphin County has succeeded in not raising taxes for 11 years.
A merger, ultimately, is up to the people, and to local officials. With the right data, officials can evaluate the bottom line: more than saving dollars, does this improve public safety?
Police regionalization may be one of the best moves our area ever made — to the point where the component citizens, leaders and police officers may say, “Why didn’t we do this a long time ago?”

Nick DiFrancesco is a former Dauphin County commissioner and a member of the Dauphin County Police Regionalization Committee.

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