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California takes over policing duties for Long Branch

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Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 1:31 a.m.
 

California borough officials weren't looking to provide police services for neighboring communities when Long Branch leaders contacted them several weeks ago.

But California Mayor Casey Durdines said the new arrangement with its neighbor is a good fit for both municipalities.

At the start of the year, California began providing police services to Long Branch.

Under the terms of the one-year contract, Long Branch will pay $1,600 a month. The deal includes a provision for additional fees if California officers spend more than 14 hours a week patrolling or responding to calls in Long Branch.

In contrast, Long Branch's set contribution was $20,148 annually when it was a member of the Southwest Regional Police Department. There were no limitations on hours of service with the regional force. The rate was based on calls per year, population and the size of the community, Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman said.

Sunday afternoon, Long Branch officials sent a fax to Southwest Regional's main station detailing the borough's intent to leave the regional organization effective Monday. Hartman received it at the start of his shift.

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

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

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

Asked about Long Branch's quick exit from Southwest Regional, Durdines said, “We don't have anything to do with that, whatever arrangement they had with them.”

Durdines said Long Branch officials reached out to California about “a partnership with policing” weeks earlier.

“This was one of the rare occasions where we're working with one of our neighbors and for the betterment of both of our communities,” Durdines said.

The mayor said California police occasionally have to drive through Long Branch to patrol or answer calls in parts of their own borough. For example, to get to Chestnut Street in California, officers have to drive through parts of Long Branch, he said. One side of Dally Road is in California and the other side is in Long Branch.

Durdines said that because Long Branch is a part of the California Area School District, students and some parents are familiar with borough officers.

“It's just a good fit for both communities,” Durdines said.

California employs 14 full- and part-time officers. With four full-time officers, California is seeking a fifth. One position opened with the recent resignation of officer Tracy Vitale, a former acting chief.

Durdines said California officials have had no discussions with other communities to provide police services.

“We're not in the business of shopping around our police services,” Durdines said. “We're content with how things are. We're going to see how things go with our neighbors in Long Branch.

“This is new territory for California, too.”

Long Branch Borough Secretary Lisa Gilotty said residents should continue to call 911 for police-related emergencies.

Durdines acknowledged he was “a little surprised” when approached by Long Branch.

“But we're certainly glad they came to us,” Durdines said. “That's a sign that the California Police Department is really moving in the right direction.”

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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