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Chester County Press

Regional policing moves forward in New Garden, West Grove Borough

03/01/2016 01:57PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Last year, like a tumbling arrangement of dominoes, the townships and municipalities that had latched themselves onto a study to explore the feasibility of estalishing a regional police department in southern Chester County began to fall, one by one.
Each interested party seemed to have their own reason -- or reasons -- for leaving the fold of what -- at least in concept -- had the vision and planning behind it to set the tone for how policing in the region would be implemented for generations. It would create the opportunity to bring all police operations in the southern region of the county under one roof; give each officer and each department the gift to wrap their best skill sets into the fold of a larger whole; and allow for added police protection by virtue of strength in allied numbers. 
By the middle of last year, however, the idea was hanging by its last thread. For London Grove Township, its guidepost was set by the tone of their constituents, who told elected officials that the State Police in nearby Avondale were covering their neighborhoods just fine. Kennett Township was in the incubation stage of redefining its police force with a new chief, an increased staff and a new way of how a small-town police department should function in the community it serves. For other townships, the pricetag seemed too steep an investment to become a part of.
As the plan slowly began to unravel, New Garden Township Township Police Chief Gerald Simpson, the key architect of the regional policing plan, watched the germination of what he envisioned as a flowering rose become a shrinking violet. In jest, he began to call the concept "Simpson's Folly."
"I was thinking about Seward's Folly -- the puchase of Alaska -- which was looked upon as silly at the time, but now, we look upon that purchase as an asset for the United States," Simpson said. "I thought there was enough of a common thread between municipalities in the region that it made sense to [regionalize]. However, it wasn't meant to be, but whatever their reasons may have been for withdrawing, in the long run, it righted the compass."
Scanning the list of interested parties, one remained: the West Grove Borough and its five-member police department, who currently provides its nearly 3,000 constituents with between 12 to 16 hours of coverage a day. Over the course of several meetings and discussions between the Borough's Public Safety Committee and Borough Council, it soon became evident that joining forces with New Garden Township was a good idea.
"We felt that we could, for the same financial commitment as having our own police force, provide more police protection for the Borough residents," said West Grove Borough Manager Sharon Nesbitt. "We would have a 24-hour police force, with the same officers our residents have gotten to know, no matter what time of day. The result will be a professional regional police department that will benefit both New Garden Township residents and the Borough of West Grove residents."
"For us, the decision [to be a part of this negotiation] is clearly service oriented," said West Grove Police Department Chief Michael King. "There's only so much we can do with a borough this size, and there are ceilings to the budget, so we had to get creative and look at ways to enhance our operations, and this was very attractive to everyone involved.   The fact that I am so familiar with the New Garden Police Department and know their officers, I would welcome those officers to West Grove."
"For consistency, continuity, information sharing and service, I see this as an opportunity to all be on the same page, be trained the same way, and be able to follow the same protocols and procedures."
The path to the formation of the regional police department is already linked by many common threads. Simpson grew up in the Avon Grove School Distirict, and lived in West Grove for five years. He also began his law enforcement career began in West Grove in 1983, and for a 14-month period, he served as the Borough's police chief, where he worked with Nesbitt. Before being named the full-time Police Chief in the Borough in January, and shortly after retiring from the State Police, King served as an officer in New Garden for two years.
For now, however, the regional unit is still in the drawing room and not on patrol, as the legalities of police contracts and the terms of agreement between the two municipalities is currently being ironed out. Should West Grove Borough and New Garden Township finalize the legal language in the next month or two, Simpson is confident that the new department could officially begin operations this summer, as a 25-person department, with 15 full-time police officers, five part-time officers, and administration.
The overall branding of the regional department is also underway: Uniforms and logos are being designed, and cross-training between agencies has begun. To date, no name has been finalized, but Simpson is leaning to adopting "Southern Chester County Regional Police Department" as the official name of the department.
The projected cost of the regional department will be divided according to population: The township, with close to 13,000 residents, would pay for 80 percent of the yearly budget, and the borough, with nearly 3,000 residents, would be responsible for the remaining 20 percent.
Once formed, the department will be expected to continue to operate out of their current facilities -- at the West Grove Borough Building and at the temporary, modular offices of the New Garden Police Department on Gap-Newport Pike. Currently, New Garden Township is developing a needs assessment study in order to determine what many in the township believe is its biggest need: the construction of a new police department facility, one that would acomodate enough space for a large public area, administration and police unit offices as well as "hardened areas," intended for incarceration and storage of police firearms. 
"I've been a police officer for 33 years, and I came into this job because I like to solve problems, and as a police chief, my problems are organizational in nature," Simpson said. "It's my solemn duty to steer the ship in a direction that's going to clear those problems up, for efficient reasons and financial reasons, in order to best serve the public.
"I'm confident that I have great people around me -- great officers and personnel -- to handle the mission that's in front of us," he added. "We will stabilize our coverage, beef up our administrative staff, and improve our investigations. By putting our two departments together, we can deliver public safety better. We're better together than apart."

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.




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