As the events of this week proved, things aren’t getting any safer out there
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
A bit like an 80-degree afternoon in December would be for a climate-change denier, this week must have been a difficult one for those suggesting that peaceful, quiet Chester County doesn’t need to think about doing something about police protection.
Between the chilling details involving the plans of two convicted murderers planning to bust out of Chester County Prison to the equally disturbing warning this week from State Police that local heroin use is on the rise (note this week’s heroin arrest in our sister publication, The Kennett Times), and with it, a resulting increase in theft and burglary, it’s pretty clear to say crime and police protection are going to be a bigger issue as time goes by, not a smaller one.
Like it not — and a lot of people would prefer it to be not — it’s time to have a real conversation about public safety in southern Chester County: what’s needed and how to fund it.
Already, we see local fire departments struggling to stay afloat — as some local municipalities continue to refuse to fund them (and those of us paying taxes to support your fire protection are really beginning to take exception to your failure to pay your fair share) — and just two of seven local communities have anything like a local police department.
No knock on the State Police: They do a great job under current budget limits, but having maybe 10 cars on duty in a 300-square-mile area is a bit of a public-safety concern. As a cub reporter 25 years ago, the main municipality in New Jersey I covered was 87 square miles and had five patrol cars on the road at all times, plus numerous supervisors and a full detective squad. That would be just under four times as much patrol force per square mile.
It’s obvious that the State Police can’t grow — in fact, the Corbett Administration floated the idea of cutting the force by 500 troopers last year, a notion that could be back in play, if the state budget situation worsens for 2013.
So with that issue in mind, as well as the ongoing concerns about fire protection, some sort of public conversation needs to be held about what the plan going forward should be. Obviously, no single town can easily afford its own police department — I’m amazed that Birmingham can make it work — so either a regional force or a county force of some sort are the only options.
There have been some suggestions that the county sheriff’s deputies be given police powers — much of the needed equipment and infrastructure is already in place, making the cost lower than creating a regional force from scratch. But the hang-up is that not all of the current deputies (to the best of my knowledge) have Act 120 certification, the formal training to be state-certified police officers. If the deputies were to be required to have Act 120 certification, then yes, a county police force makes a lot of sense and works effectively in neighboring states such as New Jersey and Delaware. But, if some have suggested, giving police powers to deputies without Act 120 certification is the plan, to me that’s a non-starter.
Failing that, it means continuing discussions on forming a true regional department. And while that’s likely the best mix of cost-efficiency and local control, the politics of it are tricky at best. Aside from the “never raise taxes ever” crowd, which I’ll get to in a moment, there’s the issue of the ongoing battle over who controls what and who pays what, a recurring issues with some regional police departments and with fire and ambulance services.
Which is why the time has come for this conversation. Rest assured that nothing will happen on this front for many years — and even if there was a consensus, which there isn’t, it would take years of discussion and planning. We were reminded of that this week on the passing of former Birmingham supervisor Dick Brigham, whose determination and vision led to the creation of the township’s police department.
From seeing all of the BMWs and Mercedes on our roads, I know at least some folks see a value to spending more for something better. And while there are clearly things that need to be watched like a hawk in terms of spending, cheaping out on public safety isn’t much different, in my mind, than not being willing to take a sick child to the doctor to save money.
If, as the trend suggests, our “target rich” environment continues to be a growing crime area, real-estate will depreciate, our schools will be weakened — and the $50 to $100 a year per household needed to fund responsible public safety will seem like a drop in the bucket when home values plummet by tens of thousands of dollars.
That’s pretty much the definition of “penny-wise, pound foolish.”
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Now, despite the rather universal furor about tax increases, I’m surprised at the lack of public pressure on our local state legislators over what look to be horrifying costs of stormwater management being imposed on local municipalities by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Our four elected legislators for this area: State Rep. Steve Barrar (R-160), State Rep. Chris Ross (R-158), state Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-9) and state Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19) have been very quiet about the subject of stormwater runoff — and the new costs being dumped on local taxpayers to fund remediation projects.
Let’s set aside the fact the entire plan is both pointless and a giant waste of money — regional, multistate stormwater runoff plans can’t sensibly be managed by a gaggle of small municipalities, but require a larger, more sensible (and likely much more cost-effective) regional plan. That former DEP director John Hanger, the architect of this doozy of a plan, is now running for governor is flat-out hilarious.
Like on the looming pension disaster, which threatens everything from local education to State Police coverage, we need to see leadership from our local elected legislatures to put a stop to this madness immediately.
Taxpayers deserve real value from their dollars and real explanations as to why a ridiculous plan like this is being allowed to move forward without so much as a peep from our local legislators.