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Adamstown Borough Council votes to switch police departments
JAMES McGINNIS Review Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Despite near-unanimous opposition from approximately 100 residents in attendance, the Adamstown Borough Council voted last night to end the town’s long-standing contract with the East Cocalico Police Department and join the Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department by the end of the year.
The council voted 7 to 2 to approve an ordinance announcing their intent to stop contracting police coverage from neighboring East Cocalico Township and send a letter to the board of supervisors stating this decision before Oct. 31, when the deadline for negotiating a new contract expires.
Adamstown has contracted police services from East Cocalico Township since 1978. However, members of the council began to consider ending this contract and join Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department after president Randy Good expressed concerns about the likelihood that coverage costs will increase in coming years due to unfunded pension mandates. Good also noted that the borough would have a greater voice in the Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department – which currently includes Penn, Warwick and Clay townships – than they currently do from East Cocalico.
Two other nearby municipalities that contract coverage from East Cocalico – West Cocalico Township and Denver – have voiced similar concerns over possible hikes in coverage costs and said they are considering joining Northern Lancaster Regional Police.
Dissenting votes were cast by councilmen Joe Dietrich and David Gundrum. Both men said that their decision was based on widespread opposition to the proposed change in police departments voiced by most of the attendees at the meeting, which was held in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church because numbers exceeded the capacity of borough hall.
Gundrum added that he favored studying the feasibility of transforming the East Cocalico Police Department into a regional force, a position that was also supported by a majority of residents at the meeting.
"I would like to see this police board come together with our representatives and see what can be done," Gundrum said. "I’m a voice for my constituents, and the majority did not want to leave East Cocalico."
Dietrich also chided the council for ignoring the will of the people. He also favored delaying a decision on ending the contract until more research could be conducted to determine which option was the most beneficial for the borough.
"We are supposed to listen to what these people have said," Dietrich said. "I don’t think we need to ramrod this through tonight."
The votes followed nearly two hours of emotional comments by attendees, most of whom were Adamstown residents opposed to the decision to change police departments.
Resident Sandra Byrnes pointed out that opponents of the change have formed an organization called Citizens For The Cocalico Police, or C4CP. She noted that members of this organization have placed signs bearing their name outside their homes and businesses have started a petition drive that has garnered 1,400 signatures.
"We would like to ask you to delay action on any of the alternatives," Byrnes said. "We would like you to study the possibility of turning the East Cocalico Police Department into a regional department. I trust that our citizens will continue to show interest in the issue."
Nearly all attendees raised their hands when Byrnes asked how many favored forming a regional police department in northeast Lancaster County.
Ted Woods, a former councilman who served when the borough originally entered its contract with the East Cocalico Police Department in 1978, questioned whether Northern Lancaster Regional Police’s coverage would be the same quality.
"Northern Lancaster’s rates might be cheaper, but you get what you pay for," Woods said. "Don’t trade our police coverage in the name of cheap."
Robert "Junior" Brullo, owner of Countryside Autos, said that East Cocalico Police Department is to be commended for their service, and that he would not mind paying some extra taxes to keep the borough’s existing coverage.
"I have zero problems down at the office," Brullo said. "Whenever I am at my business, I see police cars going by, day and night. I have zero theft," he added. "I hope you guys have a conscience and give this some hard consideration. Yes, my taxes are high, but I don’t want to rely on an officer coming from Stevens, Clay or even Manheim Auto Auction in the event of a theft."
Natalie Howe noted that she has used police protection and questioned whether Northern Lancaster Regional would be able to respond as fast as East Cocalico can.
"They have been professional and I was very impressed by their service," Howe said.
Ken Kerschner also said he was impressed by East Cocalico Police Department’s quick response following a burglary at his home. "The response time is critical in all situations," Kerschner said. "There have been accidents in front of our house, and the East Cocalico Police Department has been there almost right away."
Kerschner also added that the officers in East Cocalico have done a good job looking out for the borough’s children.
"My son has a positive view of the police. I think that’s priceless," he said, and was met with applause.
The members of council who voted to switch police departments defended their decisions by saying that East Cocalico Township forced them to end the contract by failing to provide reliable figures on how much coverage will increase in coming years and how much the unfunded pension mandates would cost the borough.
Councilman Ed Zander said that the council did not have any problems with the East Cocalico Police Department’s officers.
"It’s the management that stinks," Zander said. "They’re a stubborn lot, they can’t be dealt with, and can’t be trusted."
Zander added that he felt that the only way the situation would change was if the residents of East Cocalico Township replaced the board of supervisors.
"I doubt that’s going to happen," he said. "If we had a group we could deal with, we would be dealing with them. We have tried and we can’t!"
Councilman Randy Good also said he believed that the East Cocalico Police officers do a great job.
"Their officers are great," he said. "If we go with Northern Lancaster, I would like to see some of them join that force."
The council also noted that the process of transforming the East Cocalico Police Department into a regional force would be time-consuming and potentially expensive.
Solicitor Joselle Cleary estimated that it would take at least two years for such a department to be formed.
"If there was to be a Cocalico Regional Police Department, many questions would have to be answered," Cleary said. "You can’t just dissolve East Cocalico Police Department and form a regional one. There would have to be months of negotiations and studies between the different municipalities. It’s a long, drawn-out process."
Good said he was skeptical that a regional police department could ever be formed in the area.
Matz reminded attendees that the issue came up because East Cocalico would not discuss concerns over rising costs.
"I can’t shake the idea that we wouldn’t have needed these meetings if they (East Cocalico Police Department) had addressed the unfunded pension mandates – $2.3 million in unfunded pension has got to be paid by somebody."
He also addressed concerns that Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department would be cutting back coverage or would not be able to respond as fast as East Cocalico.
"You will get 24-hour coverage with Northern Lancaster County, but they will be only five hours in the environs. That five hours is not a continuous block of time," Matz said.
Matz added that East Cocalico refused to give the borough an exact figure of how many hours their officers were in the immediate area.
Sandy Roth, one of the founders of C4CP, contested Matz’s claims on response time. She claimed that response time from Northern Lancaster Regional might be as long as 25 minutes. She also noted after the meeting that more people have been signing the petition every day and that the group would now likely organize a new petition drive asking that council reconsider its vote.
"It’s nice that they are putting a price tag on peoples’ lives," Roth said.
Chance Firestone, owner of Firestone Landscaping, agreed that the group will not end its efforts to persuade officials in Adamstown, Denver and East and West Cocalico townships to consider forming their own regional police department.
"The council said that repairs to the pool are more important than citizen safety," Firestone said. "This is not over. Northern Lancaster Regional Police Department still has to accept them. Council in the past has a history of doing things the citizens don’t want."
More POLICE, page A10