From Royalton to Highspire, residents demand police protection, but small departments say it’s a struggle to keep officers on the beat.
by Debra Schell Press And Journal Staff : 7/13/2011
Gloria Beers is fed up with the shortage of police officers in Royalton.
“We need to have police on duty at night and on weekends,” said Beers at the July 5 council meeting.
The lifelong borough resident told council she has waited more than two hours for a State Police trooper to respond to a complaint, usually during a weekend at night. And by the time they arrive, she said, it’s too late.
Teens are causing noise, building bonfires, and drinking on the weekends, she said.
“It’s not just teens,” she said. “Adults are speeding down the streets.”
Beers’ complaints surprised Ken Yoder, the borough’s police administrator.
“This is the first time I have heard of these problems,” he said.
Royalton has two part-time police officers. Yoder said he would ensure both keep an eye on problem areas while on duty. But, since the officers are part time, they are not always available to work on weekends and evenings.
It’s a familiar problem in small communities that want the added security of a dedicated police force. Their budgets often can’t afford full-time officers, so they use a part-time force that often has a high turnover rate.
Injuries can also hurt a small department disproportionately. Work-related injuries have affected Royalton and Highspire.
“Our biggest problem is keeping the officers,” said Highspire Borough Manager and Police Chief John McHale.
As with Royalton, Highspire often hires officers straight out of the police academy who are seeking full-time work, McHale said.
“Some police departments don’t allow their full-time officers to work part time in other departments for a year upon hiring,” he said.
Highspire recently hired two part-time officers. Both will undergo a 12-week training program riding with another officer before they are authorized to be on duty alone, McHale said.
Highspire Sgt. Mark Stonebreaker worked for the Paxtang Police Department and Penn State Harrisburg as a part-time officer from 2000 to 2006 while working full time at Highspire Borough.
“It’s a tough job, doing part-time jobs,” he said.
“I got burned out rather quickly. Most who are working more than one police job do.” “The good police officers get offers for full-time work rather quickly, and so it is a revolving door with part-timers in most departments,” he said.
Highspire can be a great training tool for new officers who then leave for full-time jobs with other departments, he said.
“There is no quick fix,” Stonebreaker said. “We need the part-time officers, but when they get the experience, it makes them more appealing to departments who can offer full-time work.”
Back in Royalton, Mayor Robert Stone tells Beers he is aware of the need for more police coverage in the borough. He points to a report of a toddler crawling around lower Royalton unsupervised.
Yoder said Royalton plans to hire more officers, and currently has one awaiting approval from council.
The borough also plans to advertise for police officer positions.
At one point, Royalton paid Middletown for police coverage, but the practice was discontinued. Stone said it was cheaper for the borough to hire its own officers.
Meanwhile, small police departments rely on residents to help keep tabs on problems.
Stone advised Beers to call Dauphin County authorities if she sees a bonfire. A local fire marshal can be contacted to deal with the illegal fire, he said.
Royalton has an ordinance against open burning, and prohibits fire pits, but many residents have them, he said.
Councilman Chris Flynn asked Beers to provide written statements to the police department so officers could talk to teens.
“If we don’t have any documentation, how are we to address the problem?” he said.
Councilman Carl Hrescak said it is the borough’s responsibility to provide police officers, and the police officers should be taking care of the residents’ needs and concerns.