Police protection priority in Lawrence Township|
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
The retirement of the chief of police and complaints over excessive speeding sparked a discussion on police protection at last night's meeting of the Lawrence Township Board of Supervisors.
Chief Jeff Fink submitted a note to the supervisors announcing his retirement from the police force effective July 31. Fink was appointed chief in 2006 when he replaced former Chief Eric Quigley on his retirement. Fink has served with the department since May 1982.
During the public comment period of the meeting Holly Caldwell, a resident of Park View Drive in Country Club Hills, complained about the excessive speed that some motorists are traveling in the neighborhood and asked if extra patrols could be provided.
"Eventually somebody is going to hit a child and they are going to get killed," Caldwell said.
Caldwell said she believes most of the perpetrators are residents of the neighborhood.
She said she called the police department several times to ask for extra patrols but so far none have appeared.
Sgt. Jeff Brooks of the police department said the department has received her calls but said because of manpower constraints the department has not been able to provide additional patrols. He said with the pending retirement of Fink, the department is down to seven full-time police officers. He said with current staff levels in the department, officers spend most of their time responding to calls and have little time for patrol work.
He said there are several areas in the township such as Hillsdale, West Side and Country Club where they are having issues with excessive speed.
Plus he said it can be difficult to run speed control in the Country Club area because there are few areas where they can get proper sightlines and concealment, and officers usually can't stay very long because they have to respond to calls.
However, Brooks said residents can assist the police. He said if residents get license plate numbers and identify the drivers and give that information to the police, he said often all it takes to stop the behavior is for the police to go to the home of the offenders and explain to them what the situation is.
If residents can identify who the offenders are and are willing to testify at a hearing, the police can prosecute the offenders.
But Brooks asked the supervisors to hire another officer to replace Fink saying it is now almost impossible for the department to provide 24-hours a day coverage.
He said recently when an officer called off sick, and because of the township's directive that there be no overtime, the department did not have the personnel to provide coverage.
He said he was able to juggle the shifts so there was only a two-hour period when there were no officers on duty, and called the state police and asked them to provide coverage during this time.
During this two hour window, the state police responded to two calls in the township, one was a domestic incident and the other was to provide backup in Clearfield Borough.
Supervisor Glenn Johnston, chairman, asked if the calls were handled adequately.
Brooks said he has not seen the reports yet, but said they have a good working relationship with the state police and believes they were handled well. He said he does not know what their response time was; Brooks said the police department's average response time is seven minutes.
Johnston said he is pleased to hear the state police did a good job and is pleased their state taxes are being well spent.
Supervisor William Lawhead said he believes the township either has to hire one or two additional part-time officers or waive their requirement that there be no overtime, but neither of the other two supervisors offered a response.
With the impending retirement of Fink, the supervisors voted to advertise for his replacement and began discussing who should serve as interim chief until a permanent replacement is found.
Johnston asked Brooks if he is willing to serve as interim chief until a permanent replacement is found.
Brooks responded by saying with the department's current manpower he does not believe they can provide adequate protection for the public.
Johnston pressed him on the question and asked him to stop "politicking" for more manpower saying they already voted to place a question on the ballot to raise taxes for the police department, and demanded a yes or no answer.
Brooks responded by saying he wasn't "politicking" and said he instead was giving the public his point of view on the matter and said he is not willing to serve if the manpower situation is not addressed.
Lawhead then asked Brooks if he was willing to fill in as interim chief until the township could come to a decision on the manpower situation and a permanent replacement for the chief and he said he would.
With that, the supervisors voted 3-0 to appoint Brooks as interim chief effective Aug. 1 and increase his pay to the chief's wages.
This raises Brooks' hourly rate of pay to $23.39 per hour from the $23.01 per hour he is currently making.
In February, the supervisors voted to place a question on the ballot for the November general election asking voters to approve a 6-mill real estate tax increase that would go to funding the police department.