Escape shows being cheap can be very expensive

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Like me, you’re probably a bit tired of hearing about Danelo Cavalcante. I certainly am.

I live about 500 yards from Chester County Prison, so you can probably imagine I have pretty strong feelings about this issue and what caused it.

You will see a lot of back and forth in the next few weeks leading up to the election, who was to blame and such, before the issue recedes into memory and whatever the next big issue is gets our attention.

The truth is, though, there have been issues about the county complex going back decades — I’ve lived here almost 25 years. From the Juvenile Detention Center to the county dumping the money pit Barnard House on Pocopson Township, it has hardly been a smooth, happy relationship between county, township and local residents.

Decisions made more than a decade ago, contributed to the escape — decisions driven by political leaders who could never bring themselves to raise taxes, even if it meant cutting corners and hoping for the best. Chester County doesn’t pay particularly well and continues to have staffing problems both for deputies and corrections officers. Ironically, the Cavalcante search will likely end up costing million of dollars, but had the county spent a fraction of that on more staff for the prison over the last decade, the escape might never have happened.

My own beef? I like to sardonically joke that Pocopson has the most criminals and the least police of any municipality in Chester County. It’s true, we have no local police and are entirely dependent on state police.

This is no knock on the Pennsylvania State Police. PSP is overtaxed, has limited resources and rotates new officers in and out of the local Troop J. They most certainly do good work, but as we saw with the searches in Longwood and elsewhere, an intimate knowledge of the local area is not something they possess.

As I noted in my column on Wednesday, I started my news reporting career in New Jersey. In Clifton and Passaic — and ultimately my hometown, West Milford, there was policing at three levels.

Each had municipal police. Passaic County also had patrol Sheriff’s Deputies — in NJ, sheriff’s deputies have full police powers, essentially a county police force. And of course, there is the State Police, which largely backstops local efforts.

West Milford is a rural/suburban township of 89 square miles. If you took the six Chester County municipalities in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and combined them, you’d have a very similar township, albeit one with a slightly wealthier demographic. Imagine, then if that theoretical township was divided into four sectors, with a police car on patrol in each and a fifth “rover.” That was the minimum patrol in West Milford with a force of roughly 45 officers.

Compared that to Troop J, which puts about that many cars out for its entire range, which is much larger. Yes, it is complimented by the Southern Chester County Police, the Kennett Square, Kennett Township, Birmingham and to a lesser extent in terms of hours, the East Marlborough police departments, but for those municipalities with no local department, coverage can be kind of thin.

Would having local police have made a difference in the search for Cavalcante? It is difficult to say — but you’d have to assume a quicker response time to the escape report.

The benefits of local police are obvious: quicker response and life saving for car accidents and the like, lower home insurance rates and the positive presence a police department can bring to a community.

But, as you’ll rightly point out, police are expensive. It would probably mean higher taxes, which we seem to never be willing to accept from our elected officials.

So, to minimize that — and frankly improve municipal services throughout the Unionville area — it is time to merge these six small townships into one large one. Cost per resident for things like paving, snow removal, building permits and so on would drop, helping not only to pay for local police, but to help find additional badly needed funding for our local volunteer fire companies.

Between that and asking Chester County to start paying impact fees for the county complex — and yes, I’d push Gov. Josh Shapiro and the legislature to pony up a one-time grant to help get this all started — the impact on local taxes could be reduced.

Is any of this going to happen? Nope. Too many little fiefdoms with local supervisors who want to maintain their status — it’s a Pennsylvania thing.

But cheaping out on all of the above is lot like taking your new Ferrari to Jiffy Lube instead of the dealership, to save money.

It’s a choice, just don’t be surprised or angry — as has been the case this month — when it backfires.

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One Comment

  1. VR says:

    Interesting suggestion. Is there a way to estimate tax increases if the townships were combined? I live in East Marlborough township, but walk in Pocopson and Newlin very often. We all share the school district. It makes sense to share other things. I will confess that I like the smaller voting precincts. If the number of voting precincts could be maintained, consolidation would make sense.

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