Municipalities discuss regional police force
● By Richard Gaw
The New Garden Township Police Department Photo by Alessandra Nicole
At a 90-minute meeting last Saturday morning in Kennett Square, representatives from seven southern Chester County municipalities met to further discuss the concept of incorporating a regional police department in the area, one that if finalized, would serve the communities of Kennett Square Borough, Avondale and West Grove, as well as East Marlborough, Kennett, New Garden and London Grove townships.
Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick, who is serving as an official spokesperson for the project, said that representatives from all but one of the participating municipalities agreed to progress to a final plan. The lone exception was London Grove Township, whose supervisors later voted at their March 4 meeting to approve being a part of the group.
Fetick said that much of the meeting was directed at smoothing out the rough edges of the regional police concept; namely, how to properly break down yearly expenses owed by each participating municipality, share resources, and determine staffing, based on the needs of each community.
"The point of this meeting was to decide which municipalities have enough interest and enough ability to go beyond just talking about the concept, and start to talk about budgeting for it," Fetick said. "We've looked at what a potential regional police department would look like, and how it wold look from an operational and expense standpoint. The question that has come up is, 'How can we all come to a decision we can live with, and how would we want to get to that place?'"
Fetick stated that that although the municipalities agreed to stick together on the plan, that a 'Yes' vote at this stage does not indicate that a regional policing program is a slam dunk certainty.
"This is merely a commitment to agree to proceed to a final document, to its final conclusion, with the idea of putting an operational plan into effect," Fetick said.
If the concept of regional policing is ultimately put into motion, the inclusion of East Marlborough Township, Avondale and West Grove would widen the protection area from where it was last fall. On Oct. 15, local police chiefs, township officials and political leaders from London Grove, New Garden and Kennett, as well as the Kennett Square Borough met at the New Garden Township Building met to review the first phase of a 42-page report, prepared and presented by Ron Stern of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and Chief Joseph L. Kirschner of the Governor's Center for Local Government Services.
The report gave a broad overview of what a regional police force would look like in southern Chester County, and how it would protect a total population spread across the four municipalities. In addition, the study gave information on demographics, existing and projected police personnel, and the costs associated with funding such a consolidated unit.
The study recommended that a regional police department, if implemented, should consist of 35 sworn-in officers – about one officer for every thousand residents, a figure that is in step with those of other regional police units in the state.
Calculating area population, the estimated number of police incidents per year, and the time spent on each incident and other staffing equations, the study determined that if a regional police unit were established in southern Chester County, it would require the services of 25 patrol officers, three additional detectives, four additional patrol sergeants, two lieutenants, as well as one police chief and four additional administrative personnel.
The DCED made two additional recommendations in the study: That the regional unit be governed by a five-member "Regional Police Commission" made up of elected officials from each participating municipality; and that the regional department be headquartered in a new police facility that is at least 10,000 square feet in size.
Based on a 39-person staff, the proposed first-year budget for a regional police force in southern Chester County was estimated to be $5.299 million in 2015 -- or an annual "cost per officer" of $151,406. For this amount, the municipalities would receive a total of 59,570 on-duty service hours from the 35 officers. These figures not only reflect annual compensation -- which would be estimated at $4.612 million -- but other operating costs, such as various forms of insurance, legal fees and services, building and maintenance costs, utility costs, administrative and operational costs and "conversion" costs, such as uniforms, firearms and computers.
Fetick said that while some representatives strongly support the idea of regional policing, others question its feasibility, but that there is a strong commitment to continue to work in conjunction with each other.
"I have never, in my six years as an elected official, seen a group of people so congenial, so willing to have an open-ended discussion and dialogue, [as those representing the seven municipalities]," Fetick said. "There is a real sense of, 'How do we work together for the real good?' I feel that we've gotten past the 'My town is the most important thing' stage. We're thinking beyond our borders, and thinking about all of our residents as they travel throughout southern Chester County.
"I think we have a enough talent in our current administrations to get where we need to go."
The next regional policing concept meeting is scheduled for March 21, which will be open to elected officials in order to, in Fetick's words, "have the hard conversations about whether or not we're all willing to work together."
"This meeting will be a face-to face between officials, to answer whether we can break down barriers on this project, for the greater good," he said. "We have a commitment to see this process through to the end, whether its an up or down vote, with all of the formal details, all the way to the 11th hour."