Regional policing is the right answer…
By Steven Hoffman
Gov. Tom Wolf last week renewed his call for a fee to be charged to municipalities that rely exclusively on the State Police to provide policing services to residents.
The fee would be charged to municipalities themselves, and would likely be based on population.
Proponents of the policing fee see it as an issue of fairness—why should some municipalities shoulder the burden of providing very costly policing services to residents, while other municipalities don’t pay anything at all?
A clear illustration of the unfairness of the current system can be seen right here in southern Chester County.
Oxford Borough has a full-time police department and a high local tax rate to go along with it. The investment, while costly, is worthwhile. Towns without police departments certainly suffer the consequences of higher crime rates, more drug trafficking, and longer wait times for police to respond to emergency calls.
Most of the municipalities surrounding Oxford Borough don’t have police departments. When an emergency call comes into the 911 system, the closest police officers are dispatched to respond to emergency calls. So if a call comes in for an incident at Oxford Area High School, for example, it might be Oxford Borough police officers responding—even though the high school is in East Nottingham Township, which contributes nothing for those policing services.
Wolf’s support for fees for municipalities that rely exclusively on the State Police would at least be a step in the right direction as far as the unfairness of the current system.
Legislation in Harrisburg has been introduced that would establish fees on a sliding scale, with larger municipalities paying more per person than smaller municipalities would. These kinds of fees have been talked about for quite awhile, and state lawmakers have never come close to passing any legislation. Although the fees seem to be gaining some momentum and support, it is still very unlikely that state lawmakers will pass the legislation this year.
Pennsylvanians, especially Pennsylvania lawmakers, love the status quo.
But the costs of providing police services at the state level is starting to have a bigger impact on the annual state budget, and that raises the possibility of changes in the future.
The state relies heavily on the Motor License fund, which is funded through transportation user fees like gas taxes and license and registration fees, to help offset the costs of paying for the State Police operations. As policing services take up more and more of that fund, it leaves less in the fund for highway construction and safety projects. So roads and bridges remain in terrible shape.
A lot of people would be unhappy if fees are charged to municipalities because those municipalities, one way or another, will pass the costs on to residents. That’s understandable. But we think that implementing the fees would at least produce the positive result of being fairer to all Pennsylvania taxpayers.
Additionally, the fees might be a way to encourage more municipalities to engage in regional policing.
A terrific illustration of how regional policing could, and should, work, is on display right here in southern Chester County.
The Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, under the direction of Police Chief Gerald Simpson and Deputy Police Chief Michael King, recently added Avondale Borough to its coverage area through an agreement to provide 24/7 policing services for the next 18 months to Avondale Borough’s residents for $90,000.
Under Simpson and King’s leadership, the regional police department model has been wildly successful here in southern Chester County—quality police work and a higher level of training and professionalism have resulted.
In a world where drugs can ravage a community and school shootings take place today, tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that, quality policing isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity. And those services must be paid for. Regional policing is the right answer, and if it takes fees to push some municipalities to finally arrive at the responsible answer, then so be it. Too many local officials have been shirking the responsibility to pay for policing services for too long.