Members of Allentown City Council are concerned about ensuring public safety when PPL Center, the city’s new multi-purpose arena, opens next month on Center Square.
Yet some expressed confidence Wednesday night that the city is prepared to handle any problems that opening might produce.
City Council unanimously approved hiring four new police officers, but council vice president Ray O’Connell said that is not enough.
“We need to get the full allotment of 216 cops on the streets in Allentown,” declared O’Connell.
He said hiring the four officers will bring the city’s police force up to 204.
“A lot of things are going to happen in September, October, November, December,” said O’Connell. “Two hundred and four is not enough. We need more cops in Allentown. No doubt about it.”
He said the mayor, police chief and other city officials are aware of that need, adding: “I’m not trying to browbeat you. I’m just saying we need to get them.”
“We don’t disagree,” said Francis Dougherty, the city’s managing director, speaking for the administration. “Rest assured the chief has all the resources we can possible give him to get these officers hired.”
O’Connell said “believe it or not” it’s hard for the city to hire qualified police officers.
“A lot of them fail background checks,” agreed Dougherty.
Council member Jeanette Eichenwald noted the city now can hire from other police departments and get those new hires out on the streets faster than those who must first go through police academy training, “but that doesn’t seem to have helped us either.”
Council member Daryl Hendricks, a retired city police captain, said: “It’s a very difficult selection process and yet it’s one that we do not want to cut any corners on. We have very high standards with the police department and, unfortunately, we have a lot of candidates who just don’t fit the bill.
“And many of these are officers currently working in other [police] departments. They just fail to meet the standards that we’re looking for.”
Eichenwald asked if any of the four new officers are Allentown residents and was told they are not.
The four new police officers are David D. Clouser of Easton, Arthur G. Owens II of Bethlehem, Daniel P. Sullivan of Horsham, Montgomery County, and Gary J. Walsh of Northampton.
They will start as patrolmen, at a base annual salary of $50,192. Their appointments are contingent upon passing physical and psychological examinations.
City can handle arena events
While the city needs more police, during a meeting of council’s public safety committee before the full council meeting, O’Connell dismissed as “baloney” suggestions that Allentown lacks the ability to handle arena events.
“This is a project in motion,” he said. “This is going to be trial-and-error. Game time is Sept. 12.”
A concert by the Eagles will be the first major event in the arena on Sept.12.
At the committee meeting, police, fire, EMS and communications officials briefed council on their preparations for the arena’s opening.
O’Connell has full confidence that all of them “are on top of it. Time will tell. If something goes astray. You tweak it; you make it better.”
“We’re going to have some growing pains throughout the downtown area,” agreed Hendricks.
“It’s safe to say there’s going to be some trial and error. We’re going to make some mistakes and we’re going to correct them. This is all new. I’m quite confident that, in the end, everything is going to work out just fine.”
O’Connell, who serves as council’s representative on the Allentown Parking Authority, said the city “unequivocally” has enough arena parking spaces: 3,800. He said parking authority staffers project that 2-2.5 people will be in each car.