Regional police department gets township approval
07/19/2016 12:59PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
A uniform prototype for the proposed Southern Chester County Regional Police Department hung in a closet at the back of the New Garden Township meeting room on July 18 for all those who attended the Board of Supervisors meeting to see. Complete with a new logo, the uniform looked resplendent and professional, but by the start of the new year, the uniform and others just like it, is expected to be filled by a new organization of law enforcement officers.
By a 5-0 vote, the supervisors approved Ordinance No. 218, which enters the township into an intergovernmental cooperation with the Borough of West Grove to establish a regional police department that will link the township's police department with the borough's police force.
The initial agreement that will eventually form the entity will be for a three-year period, but township solicitor Vince Pompo, who introduced the ordinance, said that before the department can go “live,” a number of items need to be finalized, including acquiring insurance, assuming collective bargaining agreements, finalizing police contracts, establishing a pension plan, and firming up a budget and funding plan.
New Garden Township Police Chief Gerald Simpson speculated that the new department will be fully operational by January 2017, and projects that the department will include 15 full-time sworn-in officers, two full-time administrators, and between eight and ten sworn-in part-time officers, depending on the demand for contract policing requested by area municipalities.
“The biggest challenge we have right now is hiring people, getting police officers to commit to the coverages that we said that we would commit to,” Simpson said. “We have to make sure that we have enough bodies to cover what we are committed to do.”
A major condition of the agreement calls for the township, with close to 13,000 residents, to pay for 80 percent of the yearly budget, and the borough, with nearly 3,000 residents, would be responsible for the remaining 20 percent. New Garden's costs would be $1.688 million a year, while West Grove Borough would be responsible for $422,000, annually.
After three years, a new percentage payment formula will be devised based on the number of incidents that will be responded to within each municipality.
Simpson said that the three-year arrangement will allow the new department to evaluate its progress, its needs, and open the door to the possibility of allowing a new department to link itself to the regional department.
Pompo said that the agreement also states that any costs for a new police building that may be required for the construction of a new police facility would be absorbed entirely by New Garden Township. For the foreseeable future, the department will be expected to continue to operate out of its current facilities -- at the West Grove Borough Building and at the temporary, modular offices of the New Garden Police Department on Gap-Newport Pike.
Township manager Tony Scheivert said that a newly-formed police facility committee, of which he is a member, has begun to interview potential architects.
“We're going to explore all options,” Scheivert said. “Right now, we're pretty strong (in our belief) that Route 41 is where we should be, and putting it where the current police building is located but that's not definite. If something comes along that's better, we'll definitely take a look at it. There's no door that's closed.”
It was a long wait – and a lot of meetings, pencil sharpening and erasures, wording and re-wording – to get to a point where a regional police department in southern Chester County could ever see the light at the end of the tunnel, and in many ways, New Garden Township and the West Grove Borough resembled the last two standing dominoes on a board game.
The concept of a starting a regional police force, begun nearly two years ago, was to bring all police operations in the southern region of the county under one roof; allow officers and departments the chance to use their skill sets as part of a larger operation; and allow for more police protection in the area.
At one time, as many as five townships and municipalities participated in a study that explored the feasibility of establishing a regional police department in southern Chester County, but by the middle of last year, however, all but two – New Garden Township and West Grove Borough – had left the discussion table. Simpson, with the help of West Grove Borough Chief of Police Michael King and officials from both municipalities, persisted, saying that a regional unit would stabilize coverage and improve investigations.
“Were trying to economize the police department to scale. That is the reality of this,” Simpson said. “New Garden Township Police Department needs police officers. Frankly put, we could use more than what we're proposing in this regional police organization.
“New Garden Township is third in county for high-risk domestic violence incidents. We are a busy community. We have unique issues facing this community, in large part because of our proximity to the State of Delaware. We have experienced three overdose deaths in the last four weeks. The heroin epidemic is real, and it influences every aspect of what we do here from a public safety perspective.
“West Grove Borough offers a greater opportunity to improve their services and enhance ours,” Simpson added. “The next three years is going to be difficult for us, but we have the right staff and the right political support to make this work.”
In other township business, the supervisors announced that a public meeting for community input on the sale of the township’s sewer system will be held on July 25, beginning at 7 p.m., at the township building. A representative from Square-based Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc. – currently in negotiations with the township to purchase the system – will be at the meeting to answer questions. In addition, the township has posted a copy of the proposed sale on its web site (www.newgarden.org.), as well as a summary of frequently-asked questions related to the sale.
The full document of the Agreement of Sale is also available for public review by interested parties, at the township building.
If there is a need expressed by the community, a second public meeting will be held on Aug. 11, beginning at 7 p.m. at the township building. It is highly likely that a final decision on the sale will be made by the township's Sewer Authority and the board at its Aug. 15 meeting.
The board also approved the exterior of the township building to be the site for a candlelight vigil to be held in honor of National Overdose Day, on Aug. 31, beginning at 7 p.m.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.