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Regional police force for Armstrong Co. communities gathers steam

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

Several communities across Armstrong County are following the lead of West Kittanning by looking at ways of cutting costs and improving services through regionalizing police departments.

Manor and North Buffalo officials are the latest to join the discussion about working with neighboring communities to bolster police protection for all.

“We're looking at how to provide more service than we do now,” Manor Township Supervisor Patrick Fabian said. “Townships need to start brainstorming and set a date to get together and discuss our ideas.”

Among East Franklin, North Buffalo, West Kittanning and Manor Township, Fabian said he believes the part-time police forces have enough resources, such as cars, firearms and equipment, to establish a regional force.

Fabian said he plans to talk with officials from regionalized police forces and the state Department of Community and Economic Development to determine start-up costs associated with creating a regional force.

“One thing we want to do as supervisors is avoid raising taxes,” Fabian said. “If we can avoid raising taxes and keep our police force, great, but if we can keep our taxes level, while offering more police coverage by regionalizing, that's even better. At the end of the day, we need to make sure we explore all of our options.”

West Kittanning officials are already on the way to investigating ways to improve police coverage. The borough last week appointed members to its police committee to study the issue. Council President Robert Venesky, Vice President Henry Mores and Councilman Ken Trudgen will serve on the committee.

The committee, along with Mayor James Sobiski, will consider options, such as contracting for services with a neighboring community or developing a regional police force.

Venesky and Mores have said they are interested in options to the borough's two-man, part-time police department.

“We need 24-7 protection in West Kittanning, which we don't have now,” Mores said. “West Kittanning and other municipalities are starting to discover part-time policemen were good in times gone by, but there are too many things going on in society now, so you can't rely on just part-timers.”

In addition to the three councilmen, Venesky said council also plans to appoint two or three residents to the committee. He encourages any West Kittanning residents interested in serving on the committee to come to the March 4 council meeting.

Although Venesky said he is interested in signing on with Kittanning police, or even regionalizing, it all comes down to dollars. He said if the borough needs to pay more for regionalizing or contracting police services, officials may opt to stay with their current part-time police department.

The borough budgeted $76,306, or approximately 23 percent of its 2014 budget, to cover its police department.

“Crime is on the rise, especially with drugs, and the state police can't cover the entire county all of the time,” Venesky said. “I think people are finally ready to look at ways to get around-the-clock police protection.”

Paul Kirkwood, chairman of the North Buffalo Board of Supervisors, said his board plans to establish a committee of residents to begin exploring a regionalized police force, instead of relying on three-man, part-time protection.

“At one point, we had one officer who worked 35 to 38 hours per week, and he did a real good job,” Kirkwood said. “But this set up with three part-timers doesn't seem to work out too well.”

Kirkwood said he would like to see the surrounding communities, including West Franklin, East Franklin, West Kittanning and Manor, which all rely on part-time police, meet to discuss options for improving service.

“We're all so close to each other,” Kirkwood said. “We could have a few officers patrol all of the communities around the clock, instead of dealing with just part-timers.”

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