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Ford City residents show up to voice concerns on police disbanding

| Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Ford City police were not on the agenda for borough council's meeting on Monday night, but that didn't stop discussion of the police force's proposed elimination.

Council's meeting was moved from its usual location in the Ford City Public Library to the Latin American Club on Third Avenue to accommodate a larger-than-usual crowd.

Most of the 75 in the audience showed up in response to the recommendation of council's three-member police committee that Ford City do away with its police.

The committee suggested in July that Ford City rely on state police coverage instead.

Committee members say budget concerns prompted the recommendation. The borough counts aging infrastructure, a $580,000 grant default and $45,000 in DEP fines among its financial woes.

Katie Stump, a Ford City mother of four, said before the meeting that she would move out if the borough did away with its police.

“I'm not trying to have my kids unprotected. I did not sign up for that,” she said.

During the meeting, police supporters had to wait to speak up. Ford City Council does not allow citizen comments on non-agenda items until the end of the meeting.

Reading from a statement, Council President Kathy Bartuccio told the audience there was nothing on the agenda about the future of Ford City's police.

“The council body has never discussed disbanding the police or voting to do so,” she said.

She stressed that the borough played no role in organizing a pro-police public meeting on Aug. 5.

That meeting was also held at the Latin American Club. It drew just under 200 people. Cody Atherton, son of Ford City officer-in-charge Sgt. John Atherton, organized that event.

Bartuccio said that if council planned to act on the recommendation, officials would first hold a town hall meeting to get public input. Council did the same last year when making a decision to replace the borough's water plant.

“The police issue is no less important and will be treated similarly,” Bartuccio said.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 39 Vice President Dan Uncapher attended, along with other members of the police union.

He asked officials to conduct a public meeting, consult with police officers and “consider highly the voices of your residents.”

Councilman Gene Banks presented a petition in favor of the police with a purported 400 signatures. He suggested putting the disbandment to a referendum vote.

“I'm appealing to my council members: Let's make that one of our recommendations,” he said.

It's too late to get the referendum on the ballot for November, Banks said.

Council Vice President Jerry Miklos emphasized that the police committee, of which he is a member, made the recommendation based on financial concern, not disregard for public safety.

“I don't believe there is a single councilperson who wants to get rid of the police department,” he said. “And that includes me.”

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

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