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Long Branch pulls out of regional police force

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman received a fax when he got into the station at the start of his shift Monday.

The fax served notice that Long Branch was leaving the regional police force – effective at the end of the day.

Hartman said the fax was sent 4:24 p.m. Sunday. The document included no reason for the decision.

“It was a pleasure serving the residents of Long Branch,” Hartman said Wednesday, declining to comment further.

Southwest Regional Police was formed in 2003 with Belle Vernon and Newell. Long Branch joined two years later, first contracting for police service and later as a member of the regional force.

Southwest Regional provides police services for Coal Center, Cokeburg, Bentleyville, and Union Township in Washington County as well as Perry and Wayne townships in Greene County.

Hartman said even before Long Branch's exit this week, regional police officials have held talks with leaders in other communities about the possibility of joining the force.

Southwest Regional maintained a substation in Long Branch at the municipal building, but seldom used it because officers responded to residents' homes when they received a call, Hartman said.

Southwest Regional has a force of 18 full- and part-time officers. Hartman said the defection of Long Branch will not affect the size of the force or the department's operations or finances.

Long Branch Mayor Joe DeBlassio Jr. acknowledged that the borough is now contracting for police services with California police.

Asking about the change, DeBlassio tersely exclaimed, “I don't want to speak to it,” before referring calls to solicitor Dennis Makel.

Makel said Long Branch officials were not happy with the service and had questions about accountability.

“Council used their discretion to look at that and go elsewhere,” Makel said.

“The board disagrees,” said Joe Minniti, chairman of the regional police board.

Makel acknowledged that Long Branch officials sent the fax along with a certified mail letter, which was received by Hartman Jan. 2 – two days after Long Branch pulled out of the regional force.

Asked if Long Branch leaders were concerned they gave regional force officials short notice, Makel said, “I don't know what the definition of short notice is.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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