There have been a lot of questions regarding the proposed regionalization of police forces between New Garden and West Grove. To help shed some light on the subject we have compiled the following list of frequently asked questions.
Question #1: Why are New Garden and West Grove considering a partnership?
Answer: The answer is different for both communities. For New Garden Township the process began in January of 2014 when Chief Simpson asked the Board of Supervisors to poll the nearby neighbors for their interest. The motivation for New Garden has always been twofold; stabilize costs while enhancing services levels. Regional policing is proven to do both.
The West Grove Borough Police Department current staffing levels are five (5) officers – three (3) full-time and two (2) part-time. We are in the process of adding a third part-time officer. We are not a full-time police department, which means we do not have an officer on duty 24/7/365. While hours of coverage vary, we provide police services approximately 12-16 hours a day on average. When we are not on duty, the Pennsylvania State Police from the Avondale Station respond to calls for service in the Borough.
The New Garden Township Police Department is currently staffed with seventeen (17) officers, twelve (12) full-time and three (5) part-time officers. Additionally, they have officers designated to investigate crimes, enforce traffic issues and to provide daily administrative services. Since 2013, the New Garden Township Police Department has been providing 24-hour coverage to the township.
If our two agencies merge, we become eligible for state grants that would allow us to reallocate expenses and allow us to hire additional part-time officers, bringing our total staffing levels to approximately twenty five (25) officers. This increased staffing level would promote consistent coverage in West Grove Borough to approximately 18-20 hours/day. Equally as important is the fact that, instead of tasking the Avondale Barracks with handling our calls when we are not on duty, the “Regional Department” (a 24/7/365 agency) would always be responding to calls in West Grove Borough – regardless of the time of day or night. In fact, during staffing reductions the Regional Police Department will have a roving patrol to offer patrol services 24-hours a day, which is something we cannot provide alone. For residents, that means they will have their police department aiding them with their problems.
Question #2: Is this a good thing for our current Police Officers and are they in favor it?
Answer: The answer is a resounding YES! For the West Grove Borough officers, the merger will grow their professional careers by expanding their world from the .6 square miles that they currently patrol to an additional 16.5 square miles of patrol area. Officers from both agencies will get to experience patrolling the more urban environment of a borough and the rural environment of a township. They will get to experience a larger volume and variety of calls, which translates to more experience. They will also become familiar with a larger representation of our local population. This will have significant impact on intelligence for the criminals travelling between both jurisdictions. Further, as part of a merged police department, the officers from both agencies would have more opportunity for training, specialized assignments, and advancement. It’s a win-win for the community and the police officers.
Question #3: What makes the West Grove Borough Police Department and the New Garden Township Police Department such a good fit?
Answer: Both agencies have some shared history. New Garden Township Police Chief Gerald Simpson started his career with the West Grove Borough Police Department in 1983 and was the Chief of Police there for several years. West Grove Borough Police Chief Michael King worked for the New Garden Township Police Department after retiring from the State Police. Additionally, both agencies purposefully began sharing personnel on a part-time basis, participated in joint trainings, and have supported each other’s operations with manpower and coverage. As such, we have a better understanding of each other’s operations and our personnel work very well together already. Simply put, the leadership team has a shared vision and great respect for serving the public.
Question #4: Will our costs (taxes) go up?
Answer: Every project has initial outlays that in the first year appear to make a Regional Police Department more expensive. The early expenses are related to the integration of uniforms, training, and the interfacing of our records management systems.
However, these expenses are temporary. Once the “start-up” costs are completed, both communities will begin to realize the benefits of merged services (economizing the operations to scale), which will lead to stabilized expenditures. The communities may in fact reduce their financial burden by aggressively pursuing grant dollars, developing a 5-year financial plan and by managing controllable expenses.
Question #5: Will West Grove have to pay for New Garden’s new police facility project, which is reported to being several millions of dollars?
Answer: No, and this has been stated publically on at least three occasions. The new police facility project is New Garden’s challenge. West Grove has an office, which will remain and be used as a substation for police operations.
Question #6: Beyond stabilizing expenses, what are the other PRO’s to joining a regional police department?
Answer: There are several reasons; below are some examples:
1. The ability to enhance your police officers’ skills through regular training,
2. Enrichment opportunities to develop police supervisory personnel; promotions, FBI National Academy, etc…
3. Development of standardized policies,
4. Consistent service levels, 24 hours, 7 days a week,
5. Additional police services, e.g. traffic enforcement, criminal investigations and community policing efforts,
6. Proactively dealing with our communities’ crime and quality of life issues,
7. Adoption of the DOJ’s 21st Century Policing recommendations for operating a professional police organization.
Question #7: Will we lose our police officers we’ve come to know?
Answer: No, but you will gain new ones. In total, the police department will have 15 fulltime and approximately 8 to 10 part-time police officers. In order to maintain the consistent staffing levels to account for leave liabilities, court time and unexpected absences we have to increase staffing with new police employees. So, it’s very likely you will see many new faces, along with the familiar policing your community.
Question #8: What about the different contracts, Union and pensions, how does all that work?
Answer: We have partnered with both Police Associations (Unions) to seamlessly meld and establish Labor Agreements and Pensions that are equal. We have to developed language to account for the minor differences to protect an employee’s earned benefits. We have documented these protections in the Regional Terms of Agreement and Union Labor Agreements which are the legal and binding documents that will govern the department’s existence and financial obligations.
Question #9: Okay, this sounds too good to be true, what are the negatives?
Answer: The most candid answer is in order for us to succeed, it is going to take a team of dedicated people from all the spectrums --- labor, management and political to work together to make this work.
Some are worried about uncontrolled expenses and loss of local control. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Public Safety Commission is comprised of three people, one person serving as the Chairperson from one community and two others from the other community, which rotates annually. The political body came up with this fair and even approach to truly “partner” in the process and work.
Additionally, the Chief of Police and/or his designee will report to either the Manager from either community. This also rotates to keep the lines of communication open and the partners vested in our success. It’s an excellent way of maintaining the local voice in the regional department.
In a free nation, oversight and “control” shall always remain with the public for their elected officials to administer. It’s the social contract that gives us the ability to police the public.
Question #10: Okay, what if it doesn’t work and we have to break the department apart, what will happen?
Answer: It’s fair to acknowledge that not all regional police departments have stayed together. For various reasons, most of which center around a perceived unfairness, what WE are getting for what WE are paying for, partnerships dissolve. The politicians have addressed this reality in their Terms of Agreement. We shake hands and part ways with the material assets you walked in with; no loss of your communities’ property. Assets purchased during the partnership, for example a police vehicle, can be purchased by one of the communities and/or they can be sold with the value coming back to the communities.
The deeper question is what will happen to your police services after dissolution? Again, that is for each individual community to decide. Certainly a return to pre-regionalization operations is an option. Or, the community could decide not to offer public safety services and solely rely on the Pennsylvania State Police.
But, both communities are faced with that question whether we merge or not. Admittedly, professional public safety services are expensive. However, the cost of offering “less-than-the-industry-standard” can have tragic human results, beyond bankrupting your community. In other words, do it right or don’t do it at all…
Question #11: Okay, this sounds complex but overall like a good idea, when can we expect the department to begin operations?
New Garden Township will vote to join on Monday, June 20th. Since this process began with New Garden and they have invested the time to perform the due diligence, we anticipate full support from the Board of Supervisors.
West Grove will have an opportunity to vote on the question, Wednesday, June 22nd. For reasons yet to be fully understood, the outcome is less than certain.
If the merger is approved, we anticipate an inauguration and starting date in October.
Question #12: Is there any way I can learn more about this process?
You may contact Chief Gerald Simpson, 610-268-2907, ext. 100 or Chief Michael King, 610-869-2024 directly and for a meeting.
Or you may attend one of the police department hosted “Coffee with a Cop” sessions. The first is on Friday, June 10, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. at the West Grove Diner, located at #108 Rosehill Avenue, West Grove, PA.
The second is Wednesday, June 15, 2016 at 9:00 a.m. at the New Garden Township building, 299 Starr Road, Landenberg, PA.
Please be sure to check out the letters of support below.