In recent months it’s been reported that the township’s 2012 budget did not include filling two vacated positions within the police department. It’s also been reported that the police department was ordered not to fill every shift if it meant officers incurring overtime.
Earlier this month, Clearfield Borough Council responded to the reports, taking measures to work wih their police department to make sure the borough’s officers understood when they should respond to calls within the township.
Tim Winters, whose family owns business and land within the township, got the ball rolling. He compared Lawrence Township and Sandy Township. Winters noted that geographically, Sandy Township has a higher population and smaller geography, but six more police officers. He also pointed to the Uniform Crime Report, noting that Lawrence Township is higher per capita in a number of crime categories, including drug offenses and assaults. Winters stated that state police response times are also projected to increase due to projected cuts next year.
“An adequately staffed police department is a deterrent,” said Winters. He added that people don’t mind certain things when they pay their taxes, such as having a police officers respond when one is called for.
Fred Redden, a former supervisor and principal at the Clearfield Area Middle School, asked the supervisors to consider that four of the district’s schools reside in the township. He noted the importance the police department plays in keeping both the community and children safe.
Supervisor Glenn Johnston responded. He pointed stated that Sandy Township is an unusual township, being both very rural and having a metropolitan area.
“You want to preserve the police department,” said Johnston. “So do I.”
He said the supervisors are concerned that if they don’t take steps, the township will lose the police department. He pointed to the economic situation facing municipalities and the state. He also noted that neighboring municipalities are not raising taxes, indicating they wanted to continue with that.
“I speak for all of them (the supervisors) … we have no intentions to disolve the police department.”
Johnston stated that the lack of coverage was due to officers using their sick/vacation time all at once.
“We’ve only missed a very few shifts,” he said.
Police Chief Jeff Fink indicated the police department has missed four shifts.
Johnston, using a report provided by the chief, also pointed to shifts with low call volume as target areas for lapses in coverage.
Redden addressed the board again and stated they have to consider police work does not involve just the call-out, but also the paperwork and court appearances.
“There is a good number … more than half require follow-up,” said Sgt. Mark Brooks.
Officer Charles Marshall indicated the numbers were not always reflective of what the officers do.
“We have to be careful not to treat it too much like a business,” said Officer Mike Morris, who also said they can’t leave people hanging based on numbers.
Johnston stated they appreciated the additional information, and indicated it was something they would like to have in a report. He then asked how many vacation days/sick days were taken by officers recently. Fink indicated it was not that many.
“It takes nine people to put two people on 24/7,” said Fink. “We have eight. We’re already behind the eight-ball.”
The officers were also questioned about help requests to the state police while township officers were on duty. The officers stated the state police do not respond to calls for help, or if they do, rarely. This brought about concerns by officers operating without possible back-up.
After some questioning and comments from the public that insinuated the police department was being dismantled, Johnston said, “We have not laid off any officers.’
“But we haven’t replaced any as well,” said Morris.
There was also some discussion as to where the department was at budget-wise. It was indicated that the department, through two line items, healthcare and payroll, was under budget by $70,000. Johnston indicated that figure might be moot once an arbitrator makes a decision on the contract issue between the township and police department.
“Public safety is not a place to skimp,” said Winters.
“It’s really a disservice to the community with the numbers we have,” commented Brooks.