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Police talks over; will you pay for MPD officers?: Editorial

Posted 6/14/17

We really aren’t surprised that talks between the borough of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township over police services ended without any agreement. The topic seems to pop up from time to time, …

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Police talks over; will you pay for MPD officers?: Editorial

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We really aren’t surprised that talks between the borough of Middletown and Lower Swatara Township over police services ended without any agreement. The topic seems to pop up from time to time, always to fade away for one reason or another.

We are a bit disappointed. As we have said repeatedly in editorials, we see value in some type of sharing between the two departments. Financially and efficiency-wise, it makes sense, be it a contract for services or regionalization into one department.

The second option apparently was never truly discussed. But a contract for services seemed to be a possibility.

That is, until it wasn’t.

Why did the talks stop? Each side pointed a finger at the other.

Middletown Borough Councilor Ben Kapenstein told the Press & Journal that the borough never received a proposal from the township for contracting out police services.

Lower Swatara board President Jon Wilt told the Press & Journal that he and the board were waiting to hear from Middletown brass and that he hadn’t heard what Middletown’s response was or what Middletown thought of the township’s findings.

What we have here is failure to communicate?

Borough officials said information provided to the township in February included such things as the number and type of calls handled by the Middletown Police Department, staffing of the department, and audits and budgets detailing borough police spending over the past several years. Frank Williamson, who is now the township manager but at the time the talks started was the public safety director and assistant township manager, apparently was the person who worked on the study.

So if the Lower Swatara study was completed, what happened to it?

Wilt confirmed that there has been no official discussions by the board of commissioners and no votes have taken place on the subject. The topic was not discussed in public session at any Lower Swatara meeting this year.

If no official discussions had taken place on Lower Swatara’s end, then why and how was the study forwarded along to Middletown? Doesn’t it stand to reason that if the Lower Swatara board didn’t like the findings of the study — if they didn’t think it would make financial or logistical sense to enter into an agreement with Middletown — then it wouldn’t have been sent to Middletown at all? But if it was never discussed officially, then how did it get to Middletown, if it indeed was sent?

And if it was sent, why would Middletown officials say that it wasn’t? Also, Middletown Borough Council did not discuss the proposal in public session during the last several meetings before the end of May, when a 90-day deadline passed.

So if the Middletown Police Department is to stand pat, one positive is that Interim Chief George Mouchette might stay on as chief. That is Mayor James H. Curry III’s preference, and Mouchette has more than acclimated himself to the position. But let’s not forget that with Williamson’s promotion, the public safety director job in Lower Swatara is open. Would that position be more attractive for Mouchette?

Let’s not forget that the Middletown Police Department is understaffed, according to Mouchette and the Transparency Matters study completed in 2015.

In late February, Curry detailed for the Press & Journal recommendations from Mouchette for adding seven new full-time positions; including a newly created executive officer/lieutenant position, three new sergeants, a second detective, and two new full-time patrol officers. Filling all those new positions would mean an estimated tax increase of $250 for a Middletown resident with property assessed at $100,000.

So does the future hold a tax increase for Middletown residents? It’s sure to be a hot topic in the 2017 mayor’s race between Curry and longtime Middletown Police Officer Robert Givler, now retired.

The police talks appear to be at an end. But questions about how the Middletown Police Department should look will continue to linger, long after 2017 comes to a close.

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