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Forward Township threatening to disband its police

| Friday, July 8, 2011

Forward Township supervisors are threatening to disband the municipality's police force.

At a regular meeting Thursday, supervisors said they sent a letter last month to Teamsters Local 205, the police department's union, stating the township intended to disband the force of four full-time and three part-time officers at the end of this calendar year, rather than enter into a new contract with the department as the current one expires.

"They're abusing the system here," said board of supervisors chairman Tom DeRosa, referring to police officers whom he contends are putting in too many worker's compensation claims and consequently costing the township money it can't afford.

DeRosa said worker's compensation cases have driven premium costs up $14,000 in the past year for the township.

DeRosa also claims the police are losing or breaking equipment, damaging police vehicles and not fulfilling their duties.

It was noted at the meeting by Supervisor Dave Magiske that police wrote only nine traffic tickets for the month of June and 10 in May. A year ago, Magiske said officers were writing an average of 100 tickets per month.

Supervisors oversee the police department but DeRosa said their hands are tied as far as disciplining officers because of the police union.

DeRosa has butted heads with the police department before. Last summer, he fired officer Jason Miller after the officer allegedly refused to give him or other township officials his cell phone number. Miller later was reinstated to the department after the union intervened but currently is not working due to a back injury he sustained on a call in February.

DeRosa also has complained publicly of an officer's alleged failure to show up for a hearing involving a burglary suspect.

Forward Township has not had a police chief since Tom Staley retired in 2009. The department now is led by Officer-in-Charge Robert Curdie.

No police were at the meeting Thursday night.

On Wednesday, Forward Township and Elizabeth police diffused a hostage situation on Pangburn Hollow Road involving a man with a shotgun who was threatening family members.

Teamsters Local 205 business agent Carl Bailey was not at the township meeting but said in a telephone interview immediately afterward that he thinks there is still room for negotiating a new contract and keeping the department in place.

"I think I can talk them out of disbanding," said Bailey, adding he had planned to contact DeRosa earlier that day but hadn't had the chance. Bailey said he'll try to reach DeRosa today to set up more contract talks.

Bailey said there have been a number of worker's compensation claims filed for such a small department, then added, "But guys get hurt all the time."

Bailey said he received the letter of intent from the township about three weeks ago. He said he has talked with township officials, including DeRosa, since then.

Forward Township resident Robin Gaydos-Behanna attended the supervisors meeting and said afterward that she doesn't want the municipality to lose its police. She said a civilian review board or other agency should investigate the bickering that's going on between the supervisors and the police force.

If the department were to disband, supervisors said the Pennsylvania State Police would be responsible for maintaining the peace in the township.

DeRosa said the township has not yet contacted the state police about the possibility of the force being disbanded.

Forward Township supervisors in 2009 rejected a police feasibility study that could have resulted in a multi-community police force serving Forward, Elizabeth Township, Elizabeth and West Elizabeth.

At the time, DeRosa said that in addition to costing the township more, a regional force would result in the township having fewer police officers on duty within its borders and having less control over its police department.

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