The residents of Robeson Township crowded the gymnasium of Robeson Elementary School for Wednesday night’s Board of Supervisors' meeting to voice their complaints about the discussion to cut the township police department.
At the April 15 meeting, while discussing road work budget concerns, Supervisor Robert Deeds made a motion to cut the entire police force, other than Chief Mark Phillips, in order to allocate more money for road repairs.
Vice-Chairman R. Douglass Love quickly seconded the motion, stating "I think this has been coming down the road for many years."
At Wednesday night's meeting he explained, "I seconded the motion for one reason: to get you all here."
Supervisor Christopher Smith and Police Chief Mark Phillips argued against the motion.
Smith argued that a decision of this magnitude should not be made without public awareness.
"I think it's inappropriate that we don't have the public involvement or have people come and give their opinion, what they think, especially something that's a big deal like this," he said.
Chief Phillips argued the force actually needs to be expanded, not cut.
He cited a study completed in 1997, when the population was lower than it is now, that determined the township needed seven full-time officers to cover the needs of the township population.
Robeson Township currently has five officers, including the chief. "We've got 36 square miles of territory and we have about 7,300 people,” Phillips said. “There are only so many hours in a day you can do something and my guys are tired, including me. We can only do so much and if you cut the PD you're going to have a lot of problems, and I'm against it."
Chairman Roger Feeg agreed that a decision of this magnitude should not be tied into a vote about the road work budget.
"I know you're worried about the finances but I think there has to be more intelligent investigations before a major decision like that is made."
The motion was rescinded without going to a vote.
Residents heard of the boards' discussions and came out to voice their opinions at tonight's meeting. A few people expressed concerns that the boards' discussions are in retaliation for losing a recent arbitration over increasing officers' salaries.
Other residents expressed concern over the crime rates in the area. Resident Richard Steele argued, "There is a huge heroin problem, there is a huge crack problem, more heroin than you can imagine, in our community. The houses are going to keep getting robbed. If you do away with the police department what's going to happen?"
Resident Joy Graham agreed. "Crime has no borders and affects everyone. The decision made to eliminate our police force is irresponsible and wrong."
Another prominent concern surrounded the response rate of state police to local calls. "If we relied on state police coverage it would be a farce. You might wait 2 or 3 hours for an officer to respond to a call and by then someone's life might be in danger or it might already be too late," argued Robert Horst.
Finally, a few residents also addressed the budget concerns. The overwhelming response was that they would prefer to forego road work in order to maintain the police force. Alicia Runyeon stated simply, "I would rather lose a tire than lose my life."
Supervisor Feeg recognized the audience for coming out to support the police force, and also the need for the police force. He said, "How much is safety worth? It's hard to say it isn't worth [the money] because you need protection, you need police."
He explained that in order to maintain the police force they would likely need to raise taxes.
After more than two hours of public comment, Feeg said, "After tonight, my view is there is not going to be a vote to cancel police, as far as I can see." Supervisor Smith agreed that he would also not vote to disband the force.
Feeg then explained the next steps the board would take. "We need to go back and really study now [...] as to how we can work around keeping things as they are for the present time."
There remains no motion to disband the Robeson Police Department.