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Alternative police coverage information meeting held
ALICE HUMMER Review Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Over 100 people heard Northern Regional Police Chief, David Steffan, explain how his department, which formed January 2012, conducts business.
Emotions ran high as people from West Cocalico, Denver and Adamstown praised the East Cocalico Police Chief and his officers for their excellent service, which they’d like to keep. About a dozen uniformed East Cocalico officers stood at the back of the meeting room.
Jacque Smith, Chairman of West Cocalico Supervisors, opened the July 1 meeting at West Cocalico municipal building by saying West Cocalico is interested in learning more about what might be available to them for police coverage. Driving the discussion is cost, which has escalated due to police pension, health care and rising costs in general.
"What West Cocalico decides to do does not mean that Adamstown and Denver Boroughs will do the same," Smith said.
Two items precipitated the meeting: 1.) receipt by the three municipalities of a revised police contract sent out by East Cocalico in June, which changed ways of operating and omitted items which are currently in practice and: 2.) lack of willingness on the part of East Cocalico Supervisors to discuss issues in the new contract over which the three municipalities disagree.
"Not exactly so," said East Cocalico Manager, Mark Hiester, during a phone interview July 2.
"There could be more discussion about this police coverage. We’re open to talking. We are not putting anything in writing regarding possible discussions, and that’s what was requested. In addition, we took the Aug. 1 signing deadline off the table and have not set another deadline date."
"The existing agreement says that if you’re dropping out, Oct. 1 is the deadline to let us know," said Hiester.
East Cocalico Supervisors provide rent free space for the police department.
"Shopping for health insurance is tricky," said Hiester. "We’re under 50 employees and only one company would cover us – Blue Cross. Shopping around is limited for us."
A sticking point in the new agreement is the stiff financial penalty – equivalent to approximately two years of police coverage costs – attached to any municipality electing to not use the East Cocalico Police services. The present contract says a 90-day notice to discontinue service must be given.
Police calls to the Cocalico school buildings, most of which are located in Denver Borough, are split according to the municipal residence of the offenders. This current practice replaced billing Denver Borough for all police calls to the elementary, middle and high school in the borough. The revised contract does not address police calls to the school.
Hiester noted that East Cocalico Police Department is operating without a contract. It expired at the end of December 2012. The contract situation is in binding arbitration.
"We are hopeful a decision will be rendered by the end of July," Hiester said.
East Cocalico is down three officers. Doug Mackley, Chairman of East Cocalico Supervisors, previously indicated that until new police contract costs are known, no advertisement for replacements will occur.
Chief Steffen explained the difference between a regional force and a contracted one. At Northern, each municipality – Clay, Warwick and Penn Townships – has two representatives that meet monthly.
The representatives may be elected officials or one elected official and one citizen elected to serve on the police commission. Each municipality, regardless of size or funding, has an equal vote.
In contrast, Adamstown, Denver and West Cocalico contract their services from East Cocalico Police Department, which is governed by East Cocalico Supervisors.
"We base our costs at Northern Regional on the PPU, which stands for police protection unit," said Steffen. "Officers are all full-time and work a 40-hour week. Therefore a PPU breaks down to 10 hours."
The Chief indicated that all services currently provided to residents using East Cocalico Police Force could be provided by the Northern force, even though some, such as school services for sports events, safety drills, and other special events are minimal currently. Northern has an officer with SRO (School Resource Officer) training and it participates in the Youth Aid Panel, assisting 13 youths last year.
Governance at Northern Regional has the police department reporting to the chief. The chief reports to the police board. The chief also reports to citizens and the auditors.
"Chain of command is paramount," said Steffan. "That’s how we do things. The information flows from the Chief’s office to the Board of Police Commissioners to the communities and municipalities. We keep hard data to prove what we are doing. Of course, we also get valuable information from citizens, so it’s a two-way street."
Residents’ and municipal officials’ concerns regarding the Northern Regional department centered around response time, the rate of clearance of cases and retention rate for officers.
With 88 square miles of jurisdiction, Northern has received some criticism of how long it takes an officer to arrive at the scene.
"The wide variety of police calls are not life threatening," said Steffan. "Our overall median response time is 14 minutes, 11 seconds."
Denver councilman, Mike Gensemer, cited two examples where he was involved recently with ambulance calls. In the East Cocalico emergency situation, the police arrived quickly and first.
"They maintained a calm, professional atmosphere until the ambulance arrived shortly thereafter," said Gensemer. "The entire incident was handled quickly and the people involved felt well served."
In the Clay Township emergency situation, another person at the scene with advanced first aid certification provided medical assessment and aid until "the ambulance finally arrived." The ambulance personnel provided medical aid and loaded the patient into the ambulance.
"At last the police officer arrived, just in time to close the ambulance door. By the time the officer arrived, he was not needed," said Gensemer.
Chief Steffen noted that "the officer did arrive, it counts as a call, and it was a non-life threatening situation."
"We’re low with at 26 percent clearance rate. We are looking at it," Steffan said, under the topic of clearance of cases.
Lancaster County has a 71 percent clearance rate and East Cocalico has an average 42.3 percent clearance rate.
"That’s 27.5 percent for part I offenses and 57.1 for part II offenses," Chief Beever explained.
"Northern has the Manheim Auto Auction within its jurisdiction," said Steffan. "It’s a place that’s susceptible to crime. They use a specific business model that by its nature makes it hard sometimes to solve cases. There’s also the transient factor of people involved with the auction."
In the past year, five patrol officers, or 31 percent of the patrol force, left the Northern Regional Department. The retention rate caused some raised eyebrows from officials in each of the three municipalities represented.
Currently, Northern has 24 sworn officers, one detective, one chief, one lieutenant and four sergeants. East Cocalico has 20 sworn officers. Two of its corporals took over the two sergeant’s duties when they retired and they also help patrol.
"If all three municipalities would elect to join Regional, eight more officers would probably be needed," Steffen indicated. "Northern has two new cars ready to go. We’d probably need another cruiser."
"We could be here till midnight answering questions," Smith added. "Please attend your local municipal meetings."
Listening to audience sentiment as the meeting disbanded, residents desired more discussion by all four municipalities served by East Cocalico Police.
More MEETING, page A10