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Two of the three municipalities that recently conducted a regional police force study are moving forward with plans to consolidate their forces, potentially as soon as 2024.
Annville Township and Palmyra Borough officials are working on a charter, or set of rules, that would guide their regionalization efforts. The third municipality, South Annville Township, has withdrawn its interest.
A nine-member committee is in the process of drafting what Palmyra Borough Police Chief Andrew Winters called “the rules of the game.” The regional police force committee consists of representatives from both municipal boards, their respective police chiefs and municipal managers.
“The charter consists of the rules of the game for the two municipalities to get together and creates a commission that would run the regional police force,” said Winters.
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Some of the rules to be included in the charter would: determine officer compensation and a new pension plan; decide where the regional headquarters will be located; set guidelines to design a new report writing system; and determine jurisdictional boundaries, among other necessary criteria to be addressed before the regional force can be launched.
“Two of the biggest factors are compensation and who’s going to pay for it and what happens if you decide to resolve the partnership,” added Winters. “So the charter is a roadmap of how to make this happen. It says this is your base, and this is how you build off of that base.”
Winters said the committee met Wednesday to address a few outstanding questions. Depending on how quickly those questions can be addressed will determine when the charter can be presented to their respective municipal boards.
“The charter will go to the boards and their township lawyers and when everyone is happy with the charter, then township officials will be able to sign it,” added Winters. “If they (the committee) can address those questions, the charter could be presented at the end of this month or early January to their respective boards.”
If both boards sign the charter, then work towards regionalization can begin, he noted.
“You wouldn’t believe the amount of work required — it’s really an eye-opener,” said Winters. “You have to create a department name, come up with new uniforms, acquire a tax ID number, get new radio identifiers, consolidate all of your equipment and the records and evidence for the two departments, and design a pension plan. That’s just a few of the things that come to mind that have to be done.”
Winters said that work will be under the purview of the new commission, adding that their duties can’t begin until the charter is signed by municipal officials. While a tentative name for the force has been discussed, Winters said he was unable to share it at this time. He added, however, it won’t contain either the words Palmyra or Annville in it.
Concerning location, Palmyra Borough’s existing headquarters is being eyed as the site since their facility was built in the past few years and is large enough to accommodate a merger. “That’s not to say that we won’t consider having a satellite office,” added Winters.
As far as Annville leaders are concerned, Annville Township Police Chief Bernard Dugan said township supervisors have a long-standing view of favoring regionalization initiatives.
“I believe the commissioners in Annville have always been in favor of it (regionalization) because they feel that is the future of municipal government,” said Dugan. “To be able to afford it and to do it properly, you need to share services.”
Both chiefs said employee retention and hiring for a regional department will be easier than attempting to hire individually — especially with fewer people wanting to enter law enforcement.
“Hiring is a challenge across the state and nationally when you look at the nationwide narrative about policing,” said Dugan. “Hiring is difficult and hiring part-time is even more difficult. When you look to hire someone, they want full-time work, so it is hard to fill part-time positions.”
For Winters, regionalization benefits employees on several levels.
“When you combine forces, you are gaining quality people who already have training and experience, so you are growing your staff,” he said. “When you go out to hire additional people, you have a little more to offer because you have increased your size. When you start to have a larger department, you bring in things that people are after. They like the idea of being a detective or being a supervisor or being part of a specialized unit. When you stay smaller, it is a little bit harder to do those kinds of things.”
Consolidation of administrative services, enhanced investigative abilities and cost savings are a few of the other benefits of regionalization.
“We don’t know exactly what the savings are going to be, but we do believe there will be some savings,” Dugan said. “There will not be tons of it initially, but eventually, savings should be realized.”
South Annville Township manager Jeanette Henning said the costs associated with creating a regional force led to the decision by township officials to end their interest — for the time being — in joining a regional force.
“I don’t speak for the supervisors, they speak for themselves,” said Henning. “But what I can say, however, is that the money that South Annville would have had to put forth meant it was not cost effective for the residents of South Annville Township. It was not a decision the supervisors took lightly, but it is a decision they made that, for now, the township will not be a part of the regionalization plan.”
A key difference between the three departments is that South Annville does not provide 24/7 police coverage within their municipality like Annville and Palmyra do in their jurisdictions. Dugan said Annville has a contract with South Annville Township to provide part-time police protection, which usually occurs during the evening and overnight hours.
Even though their current coverage isn’t 24/7, there’s hope South Annville Township will one day re-enter the pact. “I’d like them to join us at some point,” noted Winters.
Henning said the door is open for South Annville to possibly do that somewhere down the road.
“The supervisors are very much open to revisiting it in the future — especially when you consider that South Annville is growing in size,” said Henning. “None of us hold that crystal ball for the future, but from my understanding, they’re not opposed at all. The cost is just a little more than what they wanted to agree to.”
If the merger between Annville and Palmyra does occur, it will be the first regional police force in the history of Lebanon County, according to Winters. Both municipalities have pursued regional efforts in the past, but for various reasons, those plans never came to fruition.
“It is before my time, but it is my understanding that Annville attempted to consolidate with Cleona on several occasions in the late ‘90s,” said Dugan. “But I really don’t know why it never came to be.”
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