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Ford City Council's police committee recommends eliminating department

| Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

Ford City Council's police committee has recommended the borough disband its police department in the hopes of slashing expenses.

The three-person committee of council members advised the borough rely on state police coverage instead.

Council Vice President Jerry Miklos, who serves on the committee with Scott Gaiser and Vickie Schaub, said there are no next steps in place.

“Our primary focus at this point is to get a public dialogue going,” he said. “We want taxpayers to be fully and accurately informed so we can make an intelligent decision.”

The committee outlined three possibilities:

• Contract services from another municipality.

• Hire a non-union, working chief and limit or eliminate part-time officers and shifts.

• Disband the borough's police department and use police services from state police at no cost to Ford City.

The police committee's recommendation, presented at Monday's meeting, will be distributed to Ford City residents, too, according to Miklos.

The dozen residents at the meeting did not comment.

The committee's recommendation said police force disbandment would provide more than $500,000 in savings. Those savings, members indicated, could go toward construction of a new water plant, infrastructure updates and “significant debt obligations that must be paid every year.”

A new debt may soon be added to the list: repayment of a $580,000 federal grant default. Ford City is working to address its repayment by Aug. 31.

“There's going to be some tough decisions made by everybody,” Schaub said. The borough, she added, is seeking input on the recommendation from borough residents.

The committee has been investigating the question for several months.

“We talked to some other communities that disbanded,” Miklos said. “So far, we haven't talked to anybody who has been dissatisfied with state police protection.”

Members of the Fraternal Order of Police Allegheny Valley Lodge No. 39 turned up at a June council meeting in response to rumors of police disbandment.

At the time, Miklos said officials had not yet discussed the matter. He did, however, admit the borough was looking at places to make cuts, including the police department.

The borough last year spent $550,000 on its police department. The force includes two full-time and 12 part-time officers. Ford City's total budget is $8.1 million.

Councilman Gene Banks was “strictly against” cutting the police force.

“If we do that, we might as well tell our citizens we don't care,” he said. Banks said that in areas where police were disbanded, crime went up.

“Once you leave this police department out of here and the visibility's gone, the crime will go rampant.”

Mayor Marc Mantini could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Ford City's Officer-in-Charge Sgt. John Atherton, contacted after the meeting, said he was “shocked” by the recommendation.

State police coverage, he said, would not be the same as that provided by the borough's police because of distance.

“My concern is we're available 24/7,” Atherton said. “We have a police presence and that, in and of itself, is a deterrent to criminal acts.

“We have a three to five minute (estimated arrival time) — within minutes. That would be abolished.”

The borough's ongoing struggle with drug-related crimes was another factor he cited.

Property values, he said, may be hurt by a change in police coverage.

“I would encourage all citizens and business owners to attend the next council meeting and express support for the police,” he said.

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

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