LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - Lower Macungie Township is sticking with Pennsylvania State Police to protect its 31,500 residents, rather than investigating creating its own police department or joining forces with a neighboring municipality to start a regional department.
The five township commissioners formally and unanimously voted to stay with "the status quo," as they called it, during Thursday night's meeting.
The vote comes after decades of debate about whether the township should have its own police department or continue to rely on free coverage from state police, as it always has done.
The vote also comes after commissioners had an $8,000 study done on police service options that could be considered by the township.
That study, which was completed in early January, laid out options but did not make recommendations.
One of its findings was that creating a township police department would cost Lower Macungie up to $5 million.
"We're basing our decision on factual data and analysis in a report by a credible independent researcher," said Ryan Conrad, president of the five commissioners. "We're not basing it on a random survey that's not scientific or on the will of the people at one particular moment.
"We wanted to put to bed the passionate and political arguments for or against a police department by saying 'let's get the facts together before this board and make a real determination based on the facts before us'."
The report was done by Drs. Gary and AnnMarie Cordner, who teach criminal justice at Kutztown University. (He also is the mayor of neighboring Macungie). The township hired them to do the study in 2012.
Since the Cordner report was presented to commissioners, Commissioner James Lancsek has been pressing his colleagues to take action by deciding on a police option for the township.
He said residents "are looking for some kind of closure" on the matter.
Lancsek said from the outset there was an expectation that the commissioners were "supposed to come to a conclusion to say either status quo with state police or we're going to study our own police force."
"We're doing this so there is some finality to this project - we're putting a bow on it," said Commissioner Ron Beitler.
No one from the public weighed in on the commissioners' intention to stay with state police coverage before the vote at the poorly-attended township meeting.
The Cordner report showed that, with state police coverage, Lower Macungie's crime rate is much lower than other large townships across Pennsylvania, much lower than most other municipalities in the Lehigh Valley and much lower than the national average.
In December, Gary Cordner told commissioners: "The biggest pro of your current situation is that it's cost free.
"In addition, you get your police service from a large, well-equipped, well-trained, highly respected police agency - the Pennsylvania State Police - who, among other things, are internationally accredited.
"You're getting police service from a great agency and paying nothing for it. What could possibly be better than that?"
Beitler, who chairs the commissioners' public safety committee, said its recommendation would be "status quo" - continuing with state police coverage rather than investigating the other options.
Commissioner Douglas Brown, who serves with Beitler on that committee,
said: "I am in concurrence with that. I think the study was necessary and gives us the recommendation we were looking for."
"Status quo seems to be where we should be," said township manager Bruce Fosselman.
Brown said there would have "to be some sort of catalyst" that would push the township toward creating its own police department, such as if the state would require local municipalities to pay "excessive fees" for state police overage.
Commissioner Brian Higgins agreed, saying "barring some unbelievable fee" that the state would impose on the township to pay for state police coverage, "I don't see the need to change that right now."
The township decided to have a study done after state legislation was proposed in Harrisburg that would impose a $156-per-resident fee on municipalities to pay for state police coverage.
The Cordner report estimated that if that bill became law, Lower Macungie would have to start paying the state $4.8 million a year, based on a population of 31,000.
The Cordner Police Services Study report is posted on the Lower Macungie Township website.
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