Cop talk East Cocalico Twp. open to continuing old police contract
ALICE HUMMER Review Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Over 200 people packed Denver Fire Company for the emotional issue of provision for police coverage for 2014.
The outcome of the Cocalico regional leaders meeting was good news and not so good news. The good news is that East Cocalico Supervisors Alan Fry and Noelle Fortna said that East Cocalico is open to continuing under the old police contract (where West Cocalico, Adamstown and Denver contract for service from the East Cocalico Police Department) for the next year to provide time for the municipalities to talk.
"Does Mr. (Doug) Mackley (Chairman of the East Cocalico Supervisors and the supervisor who deals with the police department) back what you say? He is conspicuously absent," asked Denver resident John Weaver.
"He’s on vacation," said Fortna. "We’re on the same page with this."
Tensions rose after Cindy Schweitzer, Adamstown Council member, asked for better input regarding budget numbers so "we’d know before December what budget numbers will be."
"We need to develop the 2014 police budget together," Schweitzer said.
Fortna suggested that East Cocalico could try giving financial expense predictions a bit earlier. East Cocalico financial administrator, Liz Dorneman, said the police pension numbers don’t arrive until December.
There was no clear answer given to Schweitzer’s original question about working together on the 2014 budget, although residents and other municipal officials indicated this cooperative route of working together is the one that they all desire and support.
"This is ridiculous arguing back and forth. Set a date – meet," said Denver councilman Steve Binkley.
Police Chief George Beever and Corporal Darrick Keppley, in a 50-minute presentation, explained the staffing and services provided by East Cocalico Police Department.
Keppley dealt with the human resource side of the department while Beever addressed his remarks, containing numbers and data, to the municipal officers present.
Keppley explained how shifts are staffed and how the different staffing numbers reflect "what we feel provides the best coverage for when calls are coming in."
Officer’s shifts overlap so there is coverage during shift change, and at no time are there less than three officers on patrol.
"We have three sectors that we cover – West, Central and East. The sectors do not go by municipal boundaries," said Keppley.
"Officers who have an interest in a special area, or consistently do well in an area, are given opportunities to train and certify in those areas," Keppley explained.
Officers have advanced certifications in areas that allow them to train and certify other East Cocalico officers, for example, in use of Tasers. Other officers’ special certifications allow the department access to special criminal investigation services for free, thus saving the department money.
Other officers have been guest speakers at seminars with the Department of Homeland Security, are experts at survival tactics, community policing, crash reconstruction (one serves as a co-leader on a county reconstruction team), serve as a county motor carrier enforcement officer, and are expert crime scene investigators, often coming up with the piece of evidence needed to make an arrest.
Three pages of examples of officers attaining specialty certifications were presented.
"We’re highly trained and that helps us solve crimes," Keppley concluded.
East Cocalico has two detectives currently working on a total of 61 active cases.
"Some of the cases are related, like car break-ins," Keppley noted.
"I feel like the weight of the world is resting on my shoulders," Keppley stated in a serious tone. But the audience gave him a boisterous, standing ovation at the conclusion of his presentation.
"I think it’s a shame that the police department has to defend itself. They do a great job. We would not be here if East Cocalico would have been willing to talk after issuing their new police contract," commented West Cocalico chairman Jacque Smith.
"They refused to talk with us," she continued. "We had to go out and look for other service. Now they say they will talk with us."
Chief Beever’s numbers made it clear that comparing the services of Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department (NLCRPD) and East Cocalico Police Department were not comparing two equal entities. For a smaller coverage area, East Cocalico officers provide more patrol coverage, more detectives, and listed 22 community policing events and services that occur on a regular basis.
"Please know I think the officers and Chief of NLCRPD are fine officers," said Beever.
"I’ve visited the Northwest, Susquehanna and Southern Regional Police departments since this issue first surfaced," said Beever.
Beever said that the Southern Lancaster County Regional Police Department uses a modified version of the PPU (police protection unit – usually 10 hours) calculation for police coverage like NLCRPD. The other regional departments don’t use this type of cost formula.
East Cocalico costs "are calculated on population and police activity," Beever said.
"We have a whole generation of people who have grown up with the East Cocalico Police Department and are used to a certain level of service," Beever said.
If the Cocalico area would switch to a regional department and want the same level of service, the answer regional would give is to buy more PPUs, according to Beever. This would increase the cost.
Retired East Cocalico police sergeant and West Cocalico resident, Ray Burns, was one of more than a dozen people who spoke during the public comment time.
"If you bought into the regional agreement," Burns said, "it has a buy-out clause, which is equal to one-year service at the same rate as the previous year. It’s not meant to be punitive, but it is."
"A charter member of NLCRPD assumes a certain amount of liability," Burns explained. "If coverage is exceeded by claims, each individual municipality assumes that liability."
"If you think you’d like a regional department go with the old agreement and do a study," said Burns.
"I believe I can say 90 percent or better of the people are not unhappy with the East Cocalico Police Department. I suggested when we joined the police department that we have a board with representatives from each municipality," said Denver resident, business owner and 42-year fire department member, John Weaver.
"East Cocalico became the kingpin. We’re all in this together. We’re all in one school district. I think you people (municipal officials in West Cocalico, Adamstown and Denver) did the right thing by looking at what’s out there. If we can’t agree we should disband East Cocalico and create Cocalico Area Police Department."
A loud, long applause followed Weaver’s remarks, a behavior repeated often as others made public remarks. Similar comments were made by Denver resident and former council member, Dan Burkholder.
"My opinion is if you like the services, keep it like it is," Burkholder said.
"I’ll make it short and sweet," said Denver resident and Lancaster County official, Bob Getz. "All I’m asking of you elected officials is to come to the table and give us a commission where everybody has a vote."
"I respect the rocky situation we’re in," stated District Justice Nancy Hammill. "Maybe we need a board to help. I have a big concern about the Cocalico School District. In the past Cocalico School District was served by four different municipal police departments. We didn’t have the type of relationship and service established by East Cocalico Police Department. The school must have security. If the police don’t do it, then the school will need to fund it. That means higher taxes."
"Establishing relationships is elusive," Hammill said. Examples followed showing how well East Cocalico Police do this.
"If we make it harder for criminals, they won’t take up residence here." Hammill cited the ongoing work the department does to discourage gangs.
Barbara Artz, Denver Borough treasurer, expressed her concerns for watching carefully how the public’s money is spent. Denver cannot build another housing development to add new residents to help bear the burden of tax increases. Artz predicted that continuing on the present trend line with police costs could raise property taxes by 20 percent. She concluded with a plea to watch the finances.
Denver councilman, Mike Gensemer, explained the hours he spent doing research on this issue. He said that a 20-percent tax hike, as Artz suggested could happen, would move the tax rate from 3 mills to 3.6 mills, less than one mill. Gensemer noted that without any figures from East Cocalico, it cannot be predicted what police costs will actually be.
East Cocalico Police were credited numerous times on their promptness in responding to calls.
"Response time doesn’t matter until it really matters," said Craig Ebersole, Lancaster County treasurer and former East Cocalico policeman.
"Response time can mean the difference between life and death," said Medic Sandy Roth.
Roth provided examples of calls where an East Cocalico police officer’s prompt response stabilized a person or situation before it escalated further.
When East Cocalico supervisor Fry and Denver council member, Mike Cohick, traded verbal volleys in what appeared to be a stalemate discussion, meeting chairman, Walter Fink, lowered the gavel and moved the meeting agenda on to the next topic.
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