Southwest Regional Police Department adds to patrol area
By Joe Napsha
Published: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, 8:07 p.m.
The Southwest Regional Police Department has added a municipality in Greene County to its three-county coverage and is looking to expand into Westmoreland County, as well as increase the number of full-time officers it employs.
Just last week, Southwest Regional Police, whose headquarters are in Belle Vernon, added Gray Township in Greene County to the list of municipalities it serves, Southwest Chief John Hartman said.
This summer Southwest Regional offered its police services to the Sewickley Township supervisors, who are considering contracting for a part-time local police service for their municipality. The township supervisors may not make a decision on contracting for police services until next year.
Southwest Regional already provides police services in Belle Vernon and Newell in Fayette County; Bentleyville, Coal Center, Cokeburg and Union Township in Washington County; and Morris, Perry and Wayne townships in Greene County. The regional police force serves about 15,000 people spread covering about 130 square miles from its headquarters in Belle Vernon and stations in Finleyville and Bentleyville in Washington County and Mt. Morris in Greene County.
“The key is how you deliver police services to a multiple number of communities. All of our procedures are designed to provide services to a multitude of communities,” Hartman said.
Southwest Regional is the only regional police department in the state to provide services in three counties, Hartman said.
Some of the models for a regional police force are based on providing services in only one county, said Paul McCauley of Indiana, a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania criminology professor.
A locally based police force can give towns the opportunity to enforce municipal ordinances and issue parking tickets, which the state police don't do, said McCauley, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on regionalization of police forces.
As a result of the growth in its service area, Hartman said that Southwest Regional is in the process of promoting some of its 16 part-time offices to full-time status. The department has four full-time officers and any decision to increase that number will be up to the board governing Southwest Regional Police, Hartman said.
Its officers provide around-the-clock coverage in Belle Vernon, Newell and Coal Center, while other municipalities contract for part-time police coverage that varies by hours and days, Hartman said.
If Sewickley Township does contract for part-time local police coverage, Supervisor Wanda Layman said she favors having the police patrol the township 20 hours a week.
Sewickley Township currently received police protection from the state police at the Greensburg barracks and that coverage would continue when the local police were not on duty.
Southwest Regional is competing with Smithton police for providing police services in Sewickley Township. Smithton also provides part-time police protection to Madison and Sutersville. Smithton Police Chief Glenn Kopp could not be reached for comment.
Municipalities such as Sewickley Township, which does not have a local police department, “find it a lot more cost effective to go with an existing operation,” than attempt to start their own police department and pay salaries and equipment costs, Hartman said.
Sutervsville Mayor Alaina Breakiron is a supporter of the regional police concept, saying she is pleased with the part-time police coverage they receive from the Smithton police department. The borough had its own police department before she was appointed mayor in February 2012, but the officer resigned, Breakiron said. It made financial sense for the small borough to have part-time police coverage provided by another department, Breakiron said.
“I like the idea of going with Smithton and not continuing on our own,” Breakiron said.
Breakiron said she hopes that Sewickley Township opts for some local police coverage as well.
“Having Sewickley with (local) police coverage will benefit us,” Breakiron said. If there is an emergency in Sutersville, the police will be closer than the state police in Greensburg, Breakiron said.
While West Newton did offer to provide local police services to Sutersville a few years ago, West Newton Police Chief Gary Indof said the borough did not offer to provide police services to Sewickley Township.
Having local police protection for just 8 to 10 hours a week, “just don't cut it,” Indof said.
“There's a lot of things you can't accomplish unless you have round-the-clock protection,” Indof said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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