Lancaster Township has just one year to figure out its next move before Manheim Township severs policing ties with the municipality. Lancaster Township now finds itself in a tough situation that local governments across the state are struggling to figure out.

Under the current police service contract, which has been in place for nearly 15 years, Manheim Township assigns eight of its police officers to patrol Lancaster Township in exchange for roughly $2 million. That contract expires at the end of 2024, and Manheim Township has no desire to renew it.

Lancaster Township wanted to continue the agreement for at least another year, but Manheim Township officials said the work has become unmanageable. The contract pulls Manheim Township officers more and more away from its residents to cover their neighbor.

“We’re worried about the safety of our own citizens,” Manheim Township Commissioner Donna DiMeo said.

As far as Manheim Township Manager Rick Kane is concerned, the contract is a “dead topic” and the township intends to move forward with its own needs in mind.

Lancaster Township Manager Bill Laudien said his municipality is still weighing its options. It has a few routes it could choose: create its own police force (expensive), contract with a neighboring municipality (also expensive) or fall back on state police services, whose service can be spotty.

Laudien says that last option is not happening.

Ending the contract

Lancaster Township’s situation is unique in that its provider made the call to cut ties, said Lynne Shedlock, acting director of the Pennsylvania Economy League, which monitors municipal finances. It’s usually the other way around, where the municipality being served can’t afford to pay the contract.

But that’s the only unique thing about it, Shedlock said. The decision doesn’t surprise her given how many municipalities are struggling to fund police departments and recruit new officers.

Sure, it’s expensive to provide contracted police service. Manheim Township officials say they’ve lost some money, though Kane couldn’t quantify just how much. But he said the major gripe with the contract is there just aren’t enough officers in the 65-person police force to spread across two heavily populated municipalities.

A variety of factors make it difficult to recruit new officers, Shedlock said, but the current political landscape is likely not motivating for aspiring officers.

“A lot of young recruits might not want to be in a profession that is being portrayed so negatively. It’s not easy. It’s not an easy profession,” Shedlock said.

Moreover, providing police service is expensive, Shedlock said, so departments end up opting for part-time officers instead of hiring people full time, which results in officers working with multiple departments to make ends meet.

Manheim Township will have at least eight openings in June when two officers retire, Kane said. He doesn’t anticipate closing the gap anytime soon. At least 50% of the police department’s latest applicants didn’t pass a mandatory physical agility test, he said, which contributes to hiring problems.

The needs of Lancaster Township exceed Manheim Township’s limited capacity. At a recent commissioners meeting, Manheim Township police Chief Tom Rudzinski said Lancaster Township has more violent crimes, which means more manpower needs to be directed there.

Kane couldn’t give an exact number, but he estimates Manheim Township must dispatch more officers to Lancaster Township than the required two “numerous times a day.”

“Thank goodness we’ve never had a situation where an officer in Manheim Township doesn’t have any backup,” Kane said. “But the police chief’s concern is when some days shifts are running at the minimum, because we don’t have those extra officers.”

Problems with state police

Pennsylvania does not require municipalities to maintain their own police departments. Some have always existed without one, contracting out to a neighboring municipality or falling back on free Pennsylvania State Police services.

Most municipalities that use state police are rural because there aren’t as many people to cover.

All of southern Lancaster County uses state police, including Paradise Township, where Manager David Thompson said they’re happy with the service. He says he’s heard only positive things from the residents.

“I would say, honestly based on the geography they cover, the response time is the biggest challenge, so I don’t try to sugarcoat that,” Thompson said. “Other than that, it’s been great.”

Emergency responses are quick, Thompson said, noting no one in the township should feel unsafe, but non-emergency response times can run up to 20 minutes.

The cost-savings benefit is enormous, and Thompson estimates the township would have to nearly double its budget to ensure everything gets covered if it were to fund an entire police department. Instead, it uses the money it saves to fund capital projects such as road repairs and a fire department consolidation.

But state police coverage is not feasible for everyone, especially in Lancaster Township, where the population is five times as big as Paradise and the crimes differ. Shedlock said state police are spread thin, which makes it difficult to respond quickly to every call it gets.

State police can’t enforce local ordinances either, Shedlock noted. Thompson said it hasn’t been a problem in Paradise, as the township can take over in instances of a noise complaint, but it could be a bigger issue for a larger municipality.

Falling to other municipalities

Laudien said Lancaster Township is turning to a number of surrounding municipalities to find a solution before 2024 closes. A partnership could be kindled, but according to statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, most of the surrounding municipalities have fewer officers than Manheim Township, and some already contract out to rural municipalities.

The county’s largest police force is in Lancaster city, which has more than 100 officers and is strapped for manpower. But Lancaster Township already tried its hand at a contract with the city and cut ties because of high costs.

The township could build its own department, though it’s an expensive feat and can be just as expensive to maintain. Most municipalities spend half their budgets on police services. Shedlock said she’s not aware of any municipality in recent times that has started up a police department from scratch.

She’s more familiar with regionalizations, such as the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department, which she said she encourages. It’s an opportunity for municipalities to share resources and costs while maintaining a local presence in the community. State programs provide financial assistance to police departments looking to regionalize.

That could be the path forward for Lancaster Township, though Laudien did not specify whether officials were looking into that option.

Some believe there also should be change in Harrisburg. State Rep. Mike Sturla is passionate about the issue and has introduced a number of bills to ensure municipalities have adequate police services.

One piece of legislation would create an optional one-cent sales tax, which Sturla estimates would generate about $50 million in Lancaster County to be spread across all municipalities. He said officials could put that money toward funding a local police department.

Others focus on funding state police in municipalities that use the service, which Sturla said is a fairer way to provide quality work in a state where there are no requirements for local police.

“Therein lies the issue with us using state tax dollars over the years versus having some sort of (municipality-funded) full-time protection,” Sturla said. “People think it’s the liberal cities that want to defund the police, and it’s actually municipalities that say ‘Hey, we just don’t want to fund the police anymore.’ ”

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