Heroin dealing prompts Sewickley Township supervisors to consider police in Herminie

Joe Napsha
| Monday, July 22, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Prompted by concerns about drug dealers selling heroin in Herminie and being so brazen as to offer it for free to teenagers, the Sewickley Township supervisors said they will study the feasibility of having local police coverage in the municipality, which relies on state police from the barracks near Greensburg.

“The (drug dealers) know we don't have local police. All you need is some police protection,” said Sandy Mireles of Herminie, who is president of the Sewickley Area Business and Civic Association. Mireles operates Sandy's Barber & Styling Shop in Herminie.

“We have such a drug problem in Herminie. I'm afraid, and I'm afraid for the children of the community,” Mireles told supervisors at the board's July 17 meeting.

Supervisor Wanda Layman, who is township coordinator, said she plans to contact Smithton and North Huntingdon to gather information about the possibility of contracting for part-time police services with those municipalities, including the cost and the number of hours those departments could provide police protection in Sewickley.

North Huntingdon Manager John Shepherd said no one from Sewickley had contacted him regarding the possibility of providing police protection. The township does not contract out its police protection services but does provide mutual assistance to Irwin when needed, Shepherd said.

Smithton police provide police services in Madison and Sutersville with its eight officers on the force, Smithton police Sgt. Greg Birkland said. The regional police force provides part-time protection in those municipalities, with the state police filling in the remainder of the hours, Birkland said.

Local police protection is crucial because of the lag time in state police responding to an incident in Herminie, said Charles Steban of Herminie.

Steban said he has seen drug activity at 3 a.m. at the Sewickley Township Library on Highland Avenue and youths gathering at the Citgo convenience store doing drug deals in the middle of the night.

“You can't walk to the auto parts store (on Sewickley Avenue) without seeing syringes on the ground,” Steban said.

Westmoreland County Detective Tony Marcocci, an undercover narcotics officer with more than 20 years of experience, said it's no surprise that heroin is circulating in Herminie.

“It's everywhere,” said Marcocci, who has made drug arrests in Herminie.

The fact that Herminie is in a rural area can draw some drug dealers, Marcocci said.

Steban told township officials that one of the drug dealers had offered his teenage daughter heroin for free, an attempt he believes to get her hooked on the drug.

“Our kids are going to start showing up dead,” Steban said.

The Westmoreland County Coroner's Office said one drug overdose death occurred in Sewickley in 2011 and two in 2012. There have been no fatal drug overdoses in the township this year, Deputy Coroner Joshua Zappone said.

If the township were to contract for local police services, it would have to be for the entire municipality, rather than just for communities such as Herminie, Supervisor Alan Fossi said.

“I have to be concerned about everyone. We need to look at our options,” Fossi said.

One of the challenges of providing police protection in the township is that it is largely rural, Layman said. The township has about 6,300 residents spread over 26 square miles and relies solely on state police, but because they patrol such an expansive area, troopers can't always respond immediately to a call.

Layman said she believes the supervisors should not sign an agreement to contract for police services without letting voters decide by placing a referendum on local police services on the ballot. If local police protection is provided, the township should not increase taxes to pay for it but use the money from the township's existing 2-mill emergency services tax, Layman said. That tax generates $91,000, according to the 2013 budget.

The township has been down this path of considering police protection in the past. In 2009, the township hosted four community meetings — in Lowber, Hutchinson, Rillton and Herminie — to gauge interest in having Smithton police patrol the township.

Supervisor Joseph Kerber said there was not sufficient support for the idea of a local police force. Wayne Jones, who was a supervisor at the time, said the township might have to raise property taxes by .05 mill to 1 mill to pay for the police protection.

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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