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Sewickley Township officials consider part-time patrols

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Sewickley Township officials are reviewing proposals from two area police departments to provide part-time patrols in the municipality, at costs ranging from $34,000 to $68,000 annually for coverage three days each week.

The Southwest Regional Police Department in Belle Vernon has offered to patrol Sewickley Township with one officer at a rate of $50 per hour, while the Smithton Police Department is proposing to patrol the township with one officer at a rate of $25 per hour, according to a report prepared by Supervisor Wanda Layman, who serves as township coordinator.

Layman said last week she based her estimates of annual basic costs on having local police patrols for three eight-hour shifts a week.

In addition to the basic charge, the township might have to pay fuel charges and for the time officers spend testifying in cases in criminal court, depending on the provisions of any contract Sewickley might sign, Layman said.

Sewickley Township relies on patrols from the state police at Greensburg for its police protection. If it opts for part-time police, it would continue to use the state police during those times when there is no local police presence.

While Layman provided fellow supervisors Alan Fossi and Joseph Kerber with copies of the report, the township may not be ready to make a decision on local police services until next spring, Layman said.

Before making any decision on local police services, Layman said she wants to conduct a series of public meetings.

“We need to see if the people show interest — from all of Sewickley,” Layman said.

The township is a diverse area, with villages like Herminie, but also outlying areas where residents may not be interested in local police services, Supervisor Alan Fossi said after the Aug. 21 meeting.

Township officials were prompted to look into providing local police services as a result of outcry from residents during a meeting earlier this summer about criminal activity related to what is believed to be an increased drug presence in Herminie.

Fossi said he would never vote for providing local police services without approval through a voter referendum.

Supervisor Joseph Kerber said after the Aug. 21 meeting he was not against the idea of offering local police protection on a part-time basis.

“I would like to see what they have to offer,” Kerber said.

The Smithton and Southwest Regional police departments, which made the offers, are “different operations” with different services, Fossi said.

“It's nice to have options,” Fossi added.

Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman said his department already offers police services to 15,000 people spread across 126 square miles. The department serves Belle Vernon and Newell in Fayette County; Union Township, Bentleyville, Cokeburg and Coal Center in Washington County; and Morris, Wayne and Perry townships in Greene County.

Hartman said his department is seeing more serious crime in the rural areas it patrols as demographics change.

“If people don't believe it, they're not in touch with what is happening,” Hartman said. “Drugs are clearly becoming an epidemic.”

Smithton police also offer part-time police protection in Sutersville and Madison boroughs, although the department is not designated as a regional department, Fossi said.

Smithton Police Chief Glenn Kopp could not be reached for comment.

In October 2009, Smithton police made a presentation to residents from Youngwood, New Stanton and Hunker about the possibility of the department providing the communities with part-time law enforcement. Those municipalities opted not to offer local police protection.

Irwin, North Huntingdon and White Oak boroughs were not interested in providing police services in Sewickley, Layman said.

Irwin Borough, which patrols neighboring North Irwin, did not want to patrol Sewickley because of the township's size, Layman said. The township is spread across about 27 square miles, much of it rural.

Irwin Borough Manager Mary Benko could not be reached for comment.State Police Lt. John Dell, staff services section commander at the Greensburg barracks, told the audience of this month's meeting it has five active investigations in Sewickley Township, in addition to one from about a month ago.

Trooper Steve Limani declined to comment on the nature of those investigations.

Layman said she has seen more state police patrol cars in the township during the past month.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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