State police protection for small towns ‘unsustainable’



(The Center Square) — Pennsylvania localities are getting rid of small, part-time police departments — requiring Pennsylvania State Police to take on public safety duties without any extra funding.

To find a long-term solution, one legislator wants a study.

“We’re beyond the free rider idea at this point and starting to look at sustainability issues, what our practices are for providing services of first responders,” said Rep. Tim Brennan, D-Doylestown.

Brennan has proposed House Resolution 438, which would order the Joint State Government Commission to study how picking up the slack for local police services has affected the state police, and what benefits would come from imposing a fee on municipalities that don’t have a local police force.

“I’m trying to be the canary in the coal mine on this,” Brennan said. “(We need to) look at some of these practices that have put increasing strain on the state police.”

State law doesn’t require municipalities to fund a local police force and some townships see a benefit in abolition: the state police take over public safety duties, and officials can then fund projects like road maintenance. Pennsylvania State Police provide local coverage from about 1,300 municipalities statewide.

When proposals surface that would require more local funding from areas the PSP protects, however, things get contentious.

A 2020 budget proposal from then-Gov. Tom Wolf included a municipal service fee to raise $136 million for state police, but rural legislators balked, arguing that small-town residents would carry a higher burden than urban residents.

The problem, however, remains of how to provide a basic service across the commonwealth.

“The role of government is the health, safety, and welfare of our residents,” Brennan said. “You can’t say you support the police and put them out of work, which a lot of municipalities are structurally doing because it’s easier — and that’s creating dangers at home, and on a statewide level, and for our troopers. You can’t say you support the police and then give them an impossible job to do.”

He argued the status quo has caused a “balkanization across the state” which creates operational difficulties for the PSP.

“I think we’re at a point where we have to look at what’s practical — and it’s hard to imagine a future where zero contribution to your police and your residents’ safety is a responsible way to govern,” Brennan said.

The balkanization problem isn’t only a result of local inaction. Local problems are not only caused by local officials.

“In fairness to localities, I don’t think the state has done much to create incentives to regionalize,” Brennan said. “I don’t think we’ve done anything that really incentivizes it on the police level.”

To that end, he’s proposed House Bill 2415 to provide grants for municipalities who want to accredit or consolidate police departments.

“We have no real grant programs that address consolidation and accreditation, and those are all positive things we could do in local departments,” Brennan said. “In police services, we’ve failed to create incentives to keep police departments.”

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