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Ford City police receive support

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 1:11 a.m.

A packed Ford City council meeting shed little light on rumors that the borough wants to do away with its police department, but demonstrated overwhelming support for the force.

According to officials from the Fraternal Order of Police Allegheny Valley Lodge No. 39, rumors spread that council is considering doing away with Ford City's police department after council discussed police staffing in various municipalities throughout the area.

Steve Aulerich, president of FOP Lodge 39 and a Lower Burrell police officer, asked Ford City officials if they were considering cutting the police force.

“We have not had that discussion, so I can't answer,” Ford City Council Vice President Jerry Miklos said.

“I think we need to look at cuts across the board and certainly, I think the police department is one of the places we have to look.”

The borough's budget is buckling under the weight of shrinking revenue, legal issues and heavy state Department of Environmental Protection fines arising from water plant compliance issues.

At about $550,000 per year, the police department is the largest expense in the borough's budget, according to Miklos.

Ford City's police compensation is already low, Aulerich said.

“They're way underpaid. Way underpaid,” he said. “Benefits-wise, they're at the bottom.”

When asked, several officials did not know how much Ford City's full-time police make. The borough has two full-time officers, 10 part time and could hire up to six more part-timers this summer.

The cost of losing the police department could be greater than the cost of keeping it, according to residents and other supporters.

Councilman Eugene Banks said he was in support of public safety. He compared it with insurance. People may not always like the cost.

“But don't have it, and see what happens,” he said. “I think the fact that we have all these people here says that.”

Residents, local firefighters, emergency management personnel and the executive committee of FOP No. 39 filled the Ford City Public Library. The standing-room-only crowd overflowed past the library's office in one direction and, in the other, out into the building's doorway.

The large crowd impressed John Atherton, Ford City's officer-in-charge.

“With the rumors going around, I'm overwhelmed with the support,” he said.

Many of those at the meeting shared Banks' concerns.

“Public safety is No. 1,” said Jack Dunmire. The Manor Township resident and former county commissioner said that state police could take 30 minutes to an hour to reach the borough.

“What happens during domestic abuse?” he asked. “What happens when there's a dog bite?”

Aulerich echoed that sentiment. While the state police's East Franklin headquarters isn't far from Ford City, its coverage area extends far down Route 28 to the Highland Park Bridge.

“There's a misconception, because it's so close,” he said.

Should the borough disband its police force, it would have more legal trouble on its hands, according to Aulerich. The same would apply to any cuts in benefits, he added.

“If they would do something to step out of the contract, we'd take them through the grievance process,” he said.

Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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