Allentown City Council member Jeanette Eichenwald declared she was disgusted.
She had called a meeting of her public safety committee at 5 p.m. Wednesday to find out how city police intend to ensure public safety in center city Allentown after the new arena opens.
Eichenwald was not happy that Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald did not attend her meeting and because police do not yet have any plans “set in stone.”
The purpose of the meeting, as stated by Eichenwald at the outset, was to find out “what staffing arrangements are being developed to provide for public security for the anticipated events planned in the arena zone.”
She also wanted to know the financial implications of implementing those security plans.
Her committee’s questions were fielded by Capt. Glen Dorney, whom council member Daryl Hendricks later identified as an interim assistant police chief.
“As far as the arena plans go, we don’t have anything set in stone due to the fact that we’re still meeting with arena personnel,” said Dorney. “In fact, we met yesterday.
“We’re mapping some things out, but we don’t have a definitive answer right now.”
Council member Ray O’Connell, who also serves on the public safety committee, noted it’s already May and the first event in the arena is the Sept. 12 Eagles concert.
“The hockey season will then be upon us,” said Eichenwald.
“You said nothing is set in stone at this point,” O’Connell told Dorney. “I would like for you and the chief to come back when it really is etched in stone and tell us how you are going to deploy your men for an event, whether be a concert or a hockey game.”
Eichenwald, who repeatedly expressed her disappointment during the meeting, agreed that another meeting on the subject should be held in summer.
“I thought we were going to have answers tonight,” she said. “We need to understand what the financial implications will be [and] what the security arrangements will be. It’s incumbent upon the police department to provide the citizens with some response.”
She said City Council has not had any opportunity to have a dialogue with the police chief since it approved his appointment in November.
“We really need to have a conversation with Chief Fitzgerald about this. I thought that was going to happen this evening. It’s good for public relations and good government for City Council to be able to dialogue with the chief.”
What is known
Overcoming public fear of inner-city crime, even if that fear is not based on facts, will be a key to the arena’s success.
Dorney explained police will be meeting with arena personnel on a regular basis, to learn what concerts and other events they are having, along with estimated attendance and where people are parking.
“It’s going to be fluid. The amount of people that show up and the type of venue will dictate how many people we’re going to deploy.
“We’re going to deploy our manpower based on that. We’re very data driven now under Chief Fitzgerald.”
Dorney said police officers working inside the new arena will be paid by the arena, but the city will bear the cost of police working outside the new building.
City resident Paulette Hunter, whom Eichenwald credited for initiating the meeting, indicated the arena should pay for police working both inside and outside the building.
Dorney said there will be a minimum police staffing level for any arena event but “what that is we don’t know yet. But we’re not going to allow the area around the arena and the entire downtown go neglected.”
He stressed police won’t only be protecting the arena block in the center of town, but also in neighborhoods surrounding it. He noted some people living nearby may walk to events in the arena, while others will park in neighborhoods around it.
“They’re going to be safe and comfortable and see police visible as they walk to these events,” he promised.