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Sewickley Township looks outside for police protection

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Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 9:34 p.m.
 

Sewickley Township could pay about $34,000 or $68,000 annually for part-time police protection from the Smithton or Southwest Regional Police departments, according to a report.

Supervisor Wanda Layman, the township coordinator who prepared the report for borough officials, said this week that Southwest Regional Police in Belle Vernon would charge $50 an hour for one officer to patrol the municipality, while Smithton police would charge $25 per hour.

Layman based her estimates of annual basic costs on patrols for three, eight-hour shifts a week.

Possible fuel charges and fees for officers who testify in cases in criminal court would have to be considered in any contract for police services, Layman said.

If the township opts for part-time local police protection, it would continue to rely upon patrols by state police at the Greensburg barracks at other times.

The township may not be ready to decide on local police services until next spring, Layman said.

She said she first wants to conduct a series of public meetings.

“We need to see if the people show interest — from all of Sewickley,” Layman said.

The township is a diverse area, with villages like Herminie and outlying areas where residents may not prefer local police services, Supervisor Alan Fossi said after the meeting.

An outcry from residents about drug activity and related crime in the Herminie area prompted township officials to look into providing local police officers.

Fossi said he would never vote for contracted police service without approval through a voter referendum.

Supervisor Joseph Kerber said after Wednesday's meeting he does not oppose offering police protection on a part-time basis.

“I would like to see what they have to offer,” Kerber said.

The Smithton and Southwest Regional police departments are “different operations” with different services, Fossi said.

“It's nice to have options,” he added.

Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman said his department offers police services to 15,000 people spread across 126 square miles. The department serves Belle Vernon and Newell in Fayette County; Union Township, Bentleyville, Cokeburg and Coal Center in Washington County; and Morris, Wayne and Perry townships in Greene County.

Hartman said the department is seeing more serious crime in the rural areas it patrols as demographics change.

“If people don't believe it, they're not in touch with what is happening,” Hartman said. “Drugs are clearly becoming an epidemic.”

Smithton police provide part-time police protection in Sutersville and Madison boroughs, although the department is not designated as a regional department. A spokesman for the department could not be reached for comment.

Irwin, North Huntingdon and White Oak borough police were not interested in providing service in Sewickley, Layman said.

Irwin Borough, which patrols North Irwin, did not want to contract with Sewickley because of the township's size, Layman said. The township is spread across about 27 square miles, mostly rural. ‘

Irwin Borough Manager Mary Benko could not be reached for comment.State police Lt. John Dell, staff-services section commander at the Greensburg barracks, told the audience at the council meeting that it has six active criminal investigations in Sewickley Township. Trooper Steve Limani, a spokesman for the barracks, declined to disclose the nature of those investigations.

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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