Pequea Township is considering reducing the size of its police force, much to the opposition of residents, some even saying they’d be willing to pay higher taxes if it meant they could keep their local force.
In a meeting on Wednesday night, the Pequea Township Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to authorize its chairman Don Purdum and vice-chairman Anthony Cazillo to conduct a study on the police department and make a recommendation in September. (Cazillo is an LNP Media Group, Inc. employee)
Pequea Township has eight officers, including its police chief, according to its Crimewatch site. In 2018, Pequea Township had the 11th-most police dispatches of any locally or regionally patrolled police department in the County, with 793 dispatches that year. This put the 5,500-resident township above the county average for police dispatches.
Throughout Wednesday’s meeting, some of the approximate 80 residents in attendance called out or groaned at arguments and interruption by the supervisors. On several occasions, attendees whispered to one another that the meeting was “a joke.”
In a Facebook video earlier this week, Purdum told residents the board is seeking to minimize costs by possibly reducing the size of the police force. In the video, Purdum claimed the police department became "unsustainable" after the Southern Regional police department with Conestoga Township dissolved two years ago. The township lost between $350,000 to $450,000 in income as a result, he claimed.
"Folks, we don't have any money," Purdum said in the video. He echoed this during Wednesday’s meeting, claiming the township is facing nearly a $200,000 deficit projected for this year.
But residents like Keith Haun of Cobblestone Drive say the township needs a full-time police department to ensure public safety.
“The reason this many people are here is because they don’t want to see a reduction in the police force,” Haun said.
Melissa Ransing, a resident of Summerfield and West Lampeter Township police officer, said the township can't afford to lose its local police and rely on state police coverage.
"If we get state (police), we get Troop J, and they're already (stretched) thin," she said.
She said cutting back to a part-time department isn't the answer because crimes take place at all times of the day.
"You're not going to get an officer within seven minutes," Ransing said, adding it’s unlikely state police officers would come at all to settle a minor dispute.
Loss of the local police would also result in added pressure to other local responders, residents said.
Meredith Jorgensen-Cooke challenged the board to end years of in-fighting and misspending. She commended the board for being fiscally responsible but urged them not to "gut" the police department and sacrifice public safety.
Police chief John Michener said during the meeting the department is already understaffed compared to other departments covering townships of this size and this many crime incidents. He added his department is also one of the lowest paid in the area.
Throughout the meeting, Michener chimed in to disagree with Purdum’s financial projections.
Of the 12 residents who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, those who called on the supervisors to raise taxes to keep the police force were applauded.
But Board member E. John Hlvacek said Purdum is doing the right thing now by looking at the expenses of the township.
"It's not just one mil this year," Hlvacek said. "It's one mil this year, and one mil next year."
Board member Scott Edwards said the problem could be traced back to 2015 when discussions first started between Pequea and Conestoga Townships to change the funding mechanism of the Southern Regional Police. At the time, Cynthia Evans-Herr was the only current supervisor serving on the board.
Evans-Herr said the apparent blame for her was “terribly predictable.” She noted that former supervisors Bob Race and Bill Schall also agreed to allow Conestoga to leave the articles of agreement.
The board also discussed the possibility of municipalities being taxed in the future for use of state police, as proposed in House Bill 959 by Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster city. Purdum said he didn’t believe such a measure would pass anytime soon.
Gillian McGoldrick contributed to this report.