Board to township: No contracted police, for now
The London Grove Board of Supervisors told a town hall audience at the Fred Engle Middle School on April 20 that the township would not pursue the concept of contracting with the newly-formed Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, for the immediate future.
As a result, township residents will continue to receive police coverage exclusively from the State Police in nearby Avondale.
Pointing to the results of a recent study, supervisor Mike Pickel told the audience, “London Grove Township does not need additional police coverage, nor will we be moving forward with joining the regional police force. We're not entertaining any talks about contracting with them for 40 hours [of coverage] per week.”
However, Pickel told the audience that the study recommended that beginning in 2018, the township should convene meetings with its board chairman and township manager, along with a Pa. State Police commanding officer should meet semi-annually with the board chairman, the township manager and a Pa. State Police – Avondale commanding officer, as a means of addressing the policing needs of the community.
“This study will be an on-going process and guide the Board of Supervisors in their decisions based on police, but as of tonight, we are not moving forward with any other service than our State Police,” he said.
The town hall gathering was not the first time the board publicly addressed the concept of linking the township with a regional police unit, which has been serving New Garden Township and the West Grove Borough since the start of 2017. In 2014, when the idea was initially floated in the southern region of the county, London Grove was one of several municipalities who sat at the discussion table. Over the next year, residents responded with both cheers and boos. It would boost safety in the township, some said, while others believed that that the price tag – estimated at the time to be about $830,000 for the first year – would be too much for doing a job that was already being done well by the State Police.
At a town hall meeting in May 2015, an overwhelming majority of the 100 residents who attended voiced their opposition, and the township subsequently dropped its name from contention.
Last year, as tensions began to grow in the township about the need for additional policing – in particular, finding a way to better patrol on-street parking issues – the township explored the idea of contracting with the regional police for about 40 hours a week.
In an effort to address the growing controversy of on-street parking in the township, board chairman Richard Scott-Harper said that the roots of the problem are two-fold: the width of many of the township's roads are very narrow and do not meet current safety and fire codes; and the township has to do a better job of getting all of its current codes to enforce the same rules.
“When [the township] started to grow, the street width standard [in the township] was originally 17 feet, and there were a lot of reasons for that,” Scott-Harper told the audience. “One of them was to try to keep the country feel of nature that we have.”
By the late 1990s, he said, the township saw a massive residential growth that created several new developments and thus, widened the roads in these communities to 20 feet. By late 2016, after meeting with local fire marshals, the board set a new minimum street width in the township at 26 feet. That's a good move to make more room, Scott-Harper said, but it doesn't address the on-street parking problems in existing communities, where several residents are complaining that the need to park additional vehicles on the street is a necessity.
Scott-Harper told the audience that the major problem with on-street parking in the township is that it limits the space available for emergency service vehicles to maneuver around parked cars. These streets are also in violation of a township fire code, which requires that the minimum width of a street has to be 20 feet, and 26 feet for a street that has a fire hydrant.
“If a tragedy happens, the township is most going to be held libel,” he said. “If the township gets sued and loses, that money comes out of all of our pockets. Depending on the size of it, if insurance does not cover it, then it would be up to us to make up the difference.”
After considering several options, including an idea to hire a parking enforcement officer, the board decided that the best way to handle the on-street parking problem was to bolster the township's codes department, and revamp current ordinances to make them consistent across the board.
“Our new township manager [Ken Battin], who is extremely knowledgeable with codes, has given us some guidance and we will, over the next few months, begin to build a true codes department who will be charged with enforcement and beginning commercial inspections, and fire inspections,” Scott-Harper said. “We have some issues that we have to address. These ordinances should all parallel each other and say the same thing.”
Following the presentations by Scott-Harper and Pickel, several audience members expressed their opinion on both issues.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.