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Union residents welcome Southwest Regional police

| Tuesday, April 24, 2012, 8:31 p.m.

Effective as of Jan. 1, the Southwest Regional Police Department has been providing coverage in Union, Washington County.

And, the department is getting rave reviews.

"The response we've received has been overwhelming," Southwest Regional Chief John Hartman said. "From the citizens, business owners and township supervisors, everyone has been very supportive."

The township had been served by the state police after supervisors voted 3-2 in 2005 to disband their police department as a cost-cutting measure.

"I'm not sure what the response times were for the state police," Hartman said. "But we do have a fully operational substation there."

Hartman added that during an incident in which additional Southwest officers were needed, he was able to get to the scene in nine minutes from the department's base in Belle Vernon.

"Having Interstate 70 and Route 43 is advantageous. I wasn't gunning it, by any means," Hartman said of the response. "Just driving there with the red-and-blues was enough. Another officer we had in Bentleyville responded and arrived just about the same time as I did."

The department works closely with Monongahela police, who cover neighboring Finleyville.

"We back each other up," the chief said. "It's a good working relationship."

Community presence

The department recently visited Ringgold Elementary School North in Gastonville, as part of the Officer Phil program.

Two assemblies were held at the school, which houses kindergarten to fifth-grade students.

Students were informed on topics such as stranger danger and Internet safety and responsibility.

"We have people saluting us as we drive by. They come up to us and tell us how proud they are at the impact we've made," Hartman said of the local praise. "The main thing that citizens are concerned with is having police coverage in their area."

During the first month of their one-year contract with the township, Southwest Regional officers have made 416 service actions, which include calls, follow-ups, tours of the township and surveillance.

"Most importantly, we have made our presence felt in the community," Hartman said.

Hartman highlighted a call he received from Mid-Mon Valley Transit Authority officials about suspicious activity at the authority's park-and-ride location.

"They gave us a call and let us know that something was going on and we ended up making two arrests at the site," Hartman said.

The chief said another location that is being monitored is the area of the Finleyville soccer fields.

"There's been an issue there with some younger individuals," Hartman said. "We've responded there quite a few times."

Hartman said the department's use of Facebook has enabled officers to remain in contact with the public. It's been so successful that the department may begin using Twitter.

"Citizens can contact us now through a private message," Hartman said of Facebook. "It's been a useful tool."

The department's Facebook page can be found by searching "Southwest Reg Pd." The department uses the site to keep the public informed of ongoing events, arrests and posts their reports.

Hartman said that Southwest Regional soon will be improving its fleet, adding that the department does have plenty of vehicles available to maintain patrols in its coverage area.

The department is broken into four zones. The north zone consists of Union, the south zone is made up of Perry and Wayne in Greene County, east is comprised of the department's home base in Belle Vernon, and Bentleyville makes up the west zone.

Hartman is looking to add a K-9 unit to the fleet.

"We're very pleased to be able to serve the residents and businesses of Union Township," Hartman said. "Every department should have citizens like those in Union. We appreciate the support and are proud to be in the community."

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