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Editorial: Regional departments keep local cops

| Friday, Nov. 30, 2018, 4:33 p.m.

T he East Pittsburgh police department is no more.

The small Allegheny County borough is not the first in Pennsylvania to pull the blinds and turn the “closed” sign on its cop shop. It is unlikely to be the last.

According to projections from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania , part of the General Assembly, while the state’s population overall is projected to rise by 1.4 million people over the next 22 years, that growth will happen in just 13 of the 67 counties. Nineteen counties will see the population decline.

Just like East Pittsburgh did.

Allegheny County’s population has fallen modestly since 1940, when there were 1.4 million residents working in and around one of the most bustling industrial cities in the country. The 2010 census put the population at 1.2 million.

But East Pittsburgh’s numbers fell more dramatically, from more than 6,000 in 1940 to less than 2,000 today.

East Pittsburgh is not alone. While Allegheny’s population is among the 35 counties expected to stay constant through 2040, Westmoreland is expected to fall. So is Armstrong. So are Washington and Somerset and Bedford.

And yet Pennsylvania, sometimes by history and sometimes by geography, is a segmented state divided into small towns and small agencies.

According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, Pennsylvania had 965 local police departments in 2008, the last year with data.

The majority were small departments with eight full-time sworn officers or fewer, just like East Pittsburgh, which had four part-time officers and a chief at the end. Three other officers resigned in the past two months, and Michael Rosfeld has been on leave since the June shooting of unarmed teen Antwon Rose. He faces trial in February.

The state police will take over the law enforcement in East Pittsburgh, just as they have in a number of other boroughs and townships across Pennsylvania. BJS lists Pennsylvania State Police as the third largest state policing agency in the country, behind California Highway Patrol and New York State Police.

So do we need local police? Yes. We do. For one thing, state police are well versed in state law, but have no way to be on top of every municipality’s individual ordinances — meaning that without police who know that a new regulation was passed, there was very little point in passing it.

So yes, we need local police. But maybe we can have a compromise that keeps more police on the streets, more police who know local laws but spread the responsibility.

Regional policing makes that possible. Municipalities that come together to share resources and achieve a common goal of safety and service can make it work. Northern Regional police bring together four municipalities under one badge in Allegheny County. Southwest Regional patrols three townships and five boroughs in Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.

So maybe East Pittsburgh won’t be the last police department to shut down. But maybe it can be the last one to turn the job over to the state police. Maybe more municipalities can get the job done through consolidation.

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