Exploring regional police force

At Cresson Borough Council’s meeting on Monday, during which discussion centered on police manpower, Chief Brad Klock used what to many communities is a controversial word: “regionalizing.”

“Places have to start regionalizing,” Klock said, referring to the police staffing shortage that not only is affecting his town, but a number of other area communities.

“Everyone is struggling right now hiring any part-time police, filling their schedules,” he said. “It’s not just us. It’s not just a Cresson-area thing.”

Borough officials acknowledged at the meeting that there are times when Cresson Borough must rely on state police coverage even though the Cresson department consists of six officers, five of them part-timers.

Such instances pose a potential dilemma, if state police are in distant parts of the county when an incident requiring an expeditious response occurs.

Presumably, police who might be on duty in neighboring or nearby municipalities could help in emergency situations, but whether they would be permitted to respond without a specific request from the borough, because a borough officer is not on duty, poses legal and insurance questions that should be addressed by way of formal agreements between the various boroughs and townships.

Municipal officials need to review existing agreements or understandings.

Perhaps it’s the right time for the general issue of police manpower and the logistics for meeting current police-protection needs to be the topic of a session between elected officials and police from a number of Cresson-area municipalities. A representative from the state police could be present, too.

And then there is Klock’s mention of the word “regionalizing,” which many municipal officials shun because of their desire to maintain their municipality’s own identity and because of fear that their municipality might have a lower priority under a regional setup.

Besides such considerations, equipment and vehicles — and municipal financial assessments — also would be issues, in some cases “sticky” issues.

Another possible basis for disagreement might be the question of who would be appointed regional chief and his or her assistants.

Still, some places have had great success with regional departments.

A meeting focusing on the issues that area departments face wouldn’t automatically commit any of the municipalities to anything.

Such a meeting also shouldn’t ignore the issue of an assessment by the state on municipalities without their own local police protection — those depending solely on state police protection.

It’s a controversial issue from which the state Legislature has up to now steered clear, but there’s no guarantee that such an assessment never will be implemented.

It’s an issue that is resurrected from time to time.

At Monday’s meeting, Klock mentioned to Cresson council members that “the budget meeting is coming up (and) I’d like to take a look at how we can manipulate to get more (police) hours” to reduce or eliminate the no-local-coverage time periods. Council members agreed to revisit the issue at the budget meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 29.

“I just want to take a look and see how we can either add more personnel or move personnel to get more hours out of them,” Klock said.

Whether or not regionalization becomes a serious point of discussion, the meeting later this month should be aimed at giving the police staffing issue all of the attention that it deserves.