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Will departure of Bey hasten regionalization of police?

Posted 12/13/16

Could the resignation of Middletown Police Chief John Bey be a catalyst for the borough becoming part of a regional force?

Some people think so, among them Mayor James H. Curry III and Council President Ben Kapenstein.

Curry said not having …

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Will departure of Bey hasten regionalization of police?


Could the resignation of Middletown Police Chief John Bey be a catalyst for the borough becoming part of a regional force?

Some people think so, among them Mayor James H. Curry III and Council President Ben Kapenstein.

Curry said not having a chief would make the regional police discussion “easier” because there is one less thing to negotiate.

“You are dealing with one less piece of the puzzle,” Curry said on Dec. 6 after council voted to accept the resignation of Bey, who is leaving the borough effective Dec. 30 to begin a full-time job with the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard at Harrisburg International Airport.

“You don’t have to negotiate with the other municipalities and say, ‘You have a chief and we have a chief and they are each making this. Who is going to be the chief? We don’t have that issue anymore.”

At the same time, Curry emphasized that the absence of a chief is not reason enough by itself for the borough to become part of a regional force. There’s much more to it than that.

“You have to think about what the benefits would be to the public and to find out what the numbers would be, who are we dealing with,” Curry said.

Yet at the same time the mayor added that “from my personal opinion from what I’ve seen, I actually think reorganization would give us better service” than what residents get now.

Kapenstein took it a step farther, saying after the meeting that he would favor council holding off on hiring a new chief until the borough can double-down on fully exploring becoming part of a regional force.

The borough would not be starting from square one. Middletown and Lower Swatara officials have met more than once over the past two years regarding whether to form some kind of regional police venture.

The last meeting held in August was set up through Dauphin County commissioners, who in 2015 had a study done showing that residents in almost all municipalities in the county that are now served by their own police force — including Middletown and Lower Swatara — would save money by going regional.

Bey while speaking to the Press And Journal about his resignation on Dec. 6 said that the borough’s engaging in discussions about regional police was not a factor in his decision to leave.

If anything, Bey said it appeared to him that the regional police issue had become “dead in the water.”

County Chief Clerk Chad Saylor said is not aware of any upcoming meetings involving Middletown and regional police, but he believes that the “discussion” is continuing between Middletown, Lower Swatara and Swatara Township — which already provides police services for Paxtang Borough.

But even if the next meeting was today it would almost certainly be several months before the borough is even ready to commit to a regional force, never mind how long it would take to negotiate the details and the length of time before a regional force is up and running.

The Middletown force cannot be leader-less throughout this time. The first step is Dec. 20, when Curry is expected to recommend or present options to council regarding who should lead the department on an acting interim basis after Bey leaves on Dec. 30.

Curry can recommend someone within the department, or he can bring someone in from outside.

Appointing from within could be challenging, in that the Middletown department has a shortage of sergeants who can act in a supervisory capacity.

Bey had tried to get council to act on promoting officers within the department to sergeant, but “for whatever reason the council did not move forward” with doing so, the chief told the Press And Journal during the interview about his resignation on Dec. 6.

Bey’s comment sparked a resident to publicly question on the Middletown Residents United Facebook page why council had not acted to promote the sergeants.

Curry posted on the site that “an official summary of the events surrounding the process” would be coming soon from council. However, the mayor declined to elaborate on what he meant when asked by the Press And Journal.

Another post on the same topic from Council Vice President Damon Suglia suggested that the sergeants issue was related to the police union — the Middletown Borough Police Officers’ Association.

Suglia when asked to elaborate said that borough Solicitor Adam Santucci is working on a statement on the issue that is to soon be issued on behalf of the borough.

Regarding the regional police issue, Suglia agrees that Bey’s departure “might be our window of opportunity” regarding discussion of the issue.

Suglia said he does not have a position on whether the borough should become part of a regional police force, because “I don’t know enough about it.”

On the same Facebook page Councilor Diana McGlone chimed in that she expects 2017 to be a key year of discussion when it comes to Middletown and regional police.

She’s all for that, although McGlone also said she does not think regional police is the answer because of the “growth” she expects to occur in Middletown, not just from the continued expansion of Penn State Harrisburg but from the future development of Woodland Hills.

“We have a tremendous drug problem and petty crime seems to be on the rise,” McGlone said. “I like the fact that we have a local police force that knows our people and the community. We would lose that insight if we go regional.”

Nevertheless, “I would favor holding off on hiring a chief depending upon the outcome” of regional police discussions,” McGlone added.

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