Residents of Lower Macungie Twp., Lehigh Co., will have to wait until the new year to learn what, if anything, their elected leaders will do about changing police protection in the township.
Dr. Gary Cordner reported Thursday night that creating a township police department would cost Lower Macungie up to $5 million.
“You save a lot of money by not having your own police department,” Cordner told township commissioners.
He displayed statistics showing the township’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.
He also warned that crime rate is increasing, “but it seems like almost all your crime is theft.”
Whether Lower Macungie needs its own police force has been debated for many years.
The township now is protected by Pennsylvania State Police.
Cordner and his wife AnnMarie were hired in 2012 to do a study of police services for the township, at a cost of only $8,000.
Both teach criminal justice at Kutztown University. He also is a former police officer and recently was elected mayor of the borough of Macungie.
From the outset, it was clear that the police services study would evaluate the pros and cons of various options, but the Cordners would not make a recommendation.
At Thursday’s commissioners meeting, Cordner focused on three options for the township: continuing to rely on state police for coverage, creating a Lower Macungie Township Police Department or creating or joining a regional police department.
He said the township also could hire another municipality or private company to provide police service. Or it could pursue some hybrid of all the options.
Cordner plans to give commissioners his final written report in early January, as soon as he gets late December crime statistic data from state police.
Any decision about future police service will be made by Commissioners Ryan Conrad, Douglas Brown and James Lancsek, along with Commissioners-elect Ron Beitler and Brian Higgins.
Township manager Bruce Fosselman said the commissioners could just accept the Cordner report without taking action on any of the options.
Commissioner Roger C. Reis, who was attending his last meeting, said: “I had hoped to wrap this up tonight. I don’t know if the board wants to move in that way or there is a sense we should wait for the new board and for Dr. Cordner’s final report.
“If we’re not going to vote on this tonight, I feel that the status quo is the best way to go.”
Warning that creating a township police department will mean higher taxes, Reis said: “We’ve just gone through a tax hike that has upset a lot of people. There is nothing in the 2014 budget to do anything about a police department.
“I do feel we’re well-served by the state police,” said Reis, who was a state police officer for 25 years. “I know they do a fine job. And if we would get a full-time police department, state police would not be patrolling in this township.”
Reis explained the state police study evolved from legislative attempts in Harrisburg to start charging municipalities $156 per resident for state police coverage.
Pros and cons
“The biggest pro of your current situation is that it’s cost free,” said Cordner “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?”
Cordner said the downside is the township gets a relatively low level of service “not in quality, just amount, because the state police have to serve the entire state and the ones operating out of Fogelsville serve a big area. There is only so much presence they can provide in your township.
“And you don’t control them. They don’t work for you. If you had your own police department, you would have control over them. And you would probably get a higher level of service – not in quality, but in volume of service.”