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Chester County Press

Kennett Township to contract with State Police for 12 a.m. – 6 a.m. coverage

02/28/2024 01:13PM ● By Richard Gaw

Beginning on March 1, the State Police in Avondale will provide Kennett Township with coverage from midnight to 6 a.m. – a policy recommendation that aims to alleviate the stress placed on the 11-member township police department in managing its current 24/7 coverage.

The recommendation – authored by interim Manager Amy Heinrich and former Manager Eden Ratliff -- was passed unanimously by all three township supervisors at their Feb. 21 meeting.

In her presentation before the vote, Heinrich said that a major reason that led to the consideration to change the coverage format stemmed from the department’s extensive – and excessive – need to work overtime in order to support the full-time format. 

“We are down a couple of officers on disability, and Matt has continued to cover many overnight shifts,” Heinrich said. “We have levels of officers working alone and working 11 consecutive shifts – 12 hours for 11 days straight. It’s just not something that we’re comfortable with, for the safety of the officers. They can’t do their best job on that kind of schedule, and if they’re not safe, it’s not a good situation for the township.

“So we have decided that we need to make a change.”

Heinrich said that while the township had contemplated folding its police department into a regionalized unit in order to help maintain 24/7 coverage, it did not want to absorb the costs associated with additional hiring and disbanding the department’s union. Additionally, folding to a regional unit, she said, would impact the morale of officers and surrender the township’s control over the management of its policing. 

Choosing to contract with the State Police for midnight to six a.m. coverage is the right solution, and the most cost effective, said Heinrich, who added that the State Police have committed to providing the township with detailed reports on all policing activity during that time. This new coverage schedule will still leave the township’s police unit with two, 12-hour shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from noon to midnight – which is when 92.5 percent of all 9-1-1 calls come into the department.

Financial impact

Tapping into the State Police to cover the midnight to 6 a.m. time period is also a financial decision for the township. On Dec. 6, 2023, the township’s 2024 budget was approved by supervisors Geoffrey Gamble, Richard Leff and departing supervisor Scudder Stevens, that included $2.4 million designated for the police department – the funding of which does not factor in additional money for the hiring of additional officers, Heinrich said. 

The decision came in the wake of an Oct. 18, 2023 presentation by township Police Chief Matthew Gordon requesting that the township consider increasing the size of the township’s police department with the addition of two more officers beginning in January and two more officers to be added in January 2025. 

In total, Gordon requested a total staffing of 15 officers over multiple years that included 12 patrol officers, a detective, a school resource officer and the chief of police. Under Gordon’s proposal, the police department’s budget would rise to $3.3 million by 2027 – a $900,000 jump, at a cost increase of about $850 per household. Following Stevens’ public displeasure with his colleagues’ rejection of Gordon’s presentation, the board ultimately rejected the proposal.

“It would continue to grow given the nature of police expenses, increasing according to inflation at about $44 per household thereafter, along with other budget pressures that we would be facing at the same time,” Heinrich said of Gordon’s proposal. “We are also at capacity in this building, and we would have to figure out another solution over time to house the ideal police department, and that would add a significant cost as well.”

Because the Pennsylvania State Police are required to provide coverage at no additional cost to taxpayers or municipalities, there will be no financial increase to Kennett Township or its residents. 

‘So let’s talk reality’

While he agreed with the overall decision of the township to contract with the State Police,

Gordon said he was concerned about the change’s possible impact on the township’s safety.

“This was not my idea, but this is the best-case scenario for the police department as it stands now. Everything that [Amy] said is not wrong. Working people 11 shifts in a row for 12 hour-shifts is crazy and it’s been going on for years, for at least the last three years I know, and the amount of overtime we have spent and the amount of time the officers are working has affected the capabilities of this police department.”

Gordon then presented a potential scenario that may have an impact on the township’s safety.

“So let’s talk reality,” he said. “The Pennsylvania State Police are no different than the Kennett Township Police. They are short-staffed, and they cover a lot more geography than we do. We cover 1.8 square miles, and they cover over 250 square miles. I am not pitting myself against the State Police – they are an amazing organization – but they have the same issues that we do. As the Chief of Police, and as the Kennett Township Police as a whole, we are charged with the safety and security of the township. Do I think that there will be instances when they will not be able to respond in a timely manner? 

“If history has been true, yes,” he added. “My concern for the overnight [coverage by State Police] are for serious crimes, where you absolutely need someone quickly – fires, cardiac arrest, burglaries in progress, shootings and assault -- that happen when people are sleeping.” 

Before their vote, the supervisors then offered their opinions on the proposal.

“I personally feel that this is a good step forward in giving our officers the relief they need so that they are rested, they are fresh and they are serving the public when their assistance is most needed,” said supervisor Pat Muller. 

“We are in a unique position, and we’re trying to find the best path forward with the resources we have, in order to do it in an efficient way and recognize that our officers and our chief will do the best with what they are given,” Leff said. “At some point in time, we have to look at ourselves in terms of what we should be asking of them. 

“Given what we know, at least I think this is a reasonable balance and one that will still protect the residents of the township, adequately.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].