Alle-Kiski SWAT team on hold to comply with recent state Supreme Court ruling
Police officials say a recent state Supreme Court ruling that postponed the finalization of a multi-municipal SWAT team in the Alle-Kiski Valley by several months is probably a good thing.
The court ruled May 31 that municipalities must enact ordinances under the state’s Intergovernmental Cooperation Act to allow police to participate in arrests outside their home municipalities except in cases of emergency. The case overturned a woman’s drunken-driving conviction in Allegheny County.
For decades, police departments made agreements with each other through the state’s Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act to staff DUI task forces and sobriety checkpoints instead of having those agreements approved by elected municipal officials.
With the new Supreme Court ruling, it will be several months before the formalization of a new multi-municipal Community Emergency Response Team (CRT), bound by a mutual-aid agreement, among New Kensington, Lower Burrell, Upper Burrell, Vandergrift, Washington Township, Murrysville and Allegheny Township.
Months ago, when the communities were planning to legally recognize the SWAT-like team, there was debate over whether the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act would cover liability and other issues or if a more detailed mutual aid agreement was needed, according to Tim Weitzel, Lower Burrell’s police chief and one of the administrators for the new CRT team as well as the existing New Kensington/Lower Burrell CRT.
Murrysville wanted more legal protection for its police officers for their work on the team and started drafting a mutual-aid agreement before the state Supreme Court ruling, according to Weitzel.
Allegheny Township also was holding back until there was a more expansive agreement, he said.
Murrysville approved its mutual-aid ordinance for the CRT team on June 5. Other municipalities are using the Murrysville ordinance as a template.
Weitzel looks at the Supreme Court ruling as a positive because it settled the debate about the CRT agreement and clears up any ambiguity.
“The ruling came down on another case, another county, another facet of police work — it’s good management to apply it to another category of police work, and we will do it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s a 60- to 90-day process to make sure we are all operating legally,” said Weitzel.
In the meantime, if a critical incident occurs where multiple police units need to respond to an emergency event, officers and their local governments will be protected by protocols set by the Westmoreland County Chiefs of Police Association, according to Weitzel.
Washington Township supervisors last week agreed to advertise an ordinance for the mutual aid agreement for the CRT team.
Supervisors will vote on the ordinance within the next month or two, according to supervisors Chairman Rich Gardner.
Earlier in the year, supervisors passed a resolution to join the multi-municipal SWAT team, and the Supreme Court ruling has instead required a mutual aid agreement.
“This doesn’t change anything,” Gardner said. “We’re still going to do it, it’s just going to cost a little more money to advertise the ordinance.”
Other communities on the team are in various processes of advertising and eventually voting on the mutual aid ordinance based on Murrysville’s draft.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter .