State College police urge more service hours in College, Harris townships

jvanderk@centredaily.comNovember 1, 2013 

State College officers have spent, on average, more hours per week than contracted in both College and Harris townships, prompting Police Chief Tom King to recommend both townships purchase more for 2014.

The borough has provided police services to the two townships for years, and King makes annual reports and offers recommendations for service hours ahead of municipal budget discussions.

King’s 2014 budget shows each service hour costs the townships $100.87. The rate for hours in excess of those contracted between police and the townships is $121.89. King said he recommends increases in the contracted hours to try to avoid the premium rates.

College Township contracted for 260 hours per week for 2013 and, through September, was receiving an average of 267. King recommended the township contract for 265 hours per week in 2014 to address the overage, which is in part is a result of the additional hours needed for calls at The Retreat, the new student housing complex between Waupelani Drive and West Whitehall Road.

“Police calls to The Retreat have been slightly less than I projected before the complex was built, but it is still new calls for the township and are adding a few hours per week,” King said.

Since The Retreat opened at the end of August, King said police have responded to 19 calls, and about two-thirds of those came from people living in the complex, for issues like parking lot car accidents or residents calling in noise complaints about others.

“I think things have gone very well there,” King said, adding that colder weather and the end of the Penn State football season could lessen the number of calls over the coming winter.

At The Villas at Happy Valley, the other student-targeted complex that opened in College Township this fall, police have responded to only one call, a small Dumpster fire that King said was extinguished quickly.

Township Council members were pleased with that information.

“That pattern, I think, everybody in this township should be very happy with,” said member Eric Bernier.

Service statistics for College are similar to last year’s, with police calls up slightly to 3,661 from 3,630 in 2012. Total crimes were down slightly from last year, 539 to 554, and have trended downward since 2008.

In the major crimes category, King singled out thefts, which dropped from 133 in 2012 to 120 in 2013.

However, fraud jumped from 38 in 2012 to 56 this year. King said most of those were bad checks written to businesses and credit card fraud.

Most traffic crashes occurred on the same seven roads as in previous years — East College Avenue, Benner Pike, Park Avenue, South Atherton Street, the Mount Nittany Expressway, Rolling Ridge Drive and Branch Road.

The number of crashes on each dropped from 2012 to 2013, except on Atherton and the expressway. Councilwoman Mary Shoemaker asked if the increase on Atherton — from 17 to 27 — had anything to do with the reconfiguration of the Branch Road traffic signals.

King later looked at that area specifically and found there were three crashes at the new intersection of Atherton, West Branch Road and Hills Plaza in 2013. There were nine crashes at the intersection of Atherton, East Branch and Creekside Plaza.

In 2012, there were four total crashes at the Branch Road intersections.

Harris Township for 2013 requested 73 hours per week and, through the end of September, was receiving an average of 76 service hours. King attributed the additional hours to slight increases over last year on patrol, investigations and traffic enforcement.

As such, King is proposing 76 service hours per week for Harris Township in 2014.

“We have been in that 70 to 77 range for the past 10 years,” King told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month. “We’ve really got a pretty refined area.”

Total service calls were down in Harris, from 1,247 in 2012 to 1,131 this year. Overall crime also is down, a trend since at least 2008. That year, there were 251 total crimes, and that figure dropped to 137 in 2013.

Out of 342 traffic tickets issued this year, most — 221 — were for speeding.

Traffic crashes mostly occurred on five roads in the township — Bear Meadows Road, Boal Avenue, Earlystown Road, Shingletown Road and South Atherton — and the number on all five dropped this year.

King pointed out to both townships, as he has in previous years, that service doesn’t stop when the townships are running over the contracted number of hours.

“If the calls continue to come, we don’t stop responding,” he said. “The public doesn’t need to think about that. We reconcile at the end of the year.”

State College employs 60 officers, and King has budgeted for 65 — a full complement — for 2014. Whether the borough hires the additional officers is up to the Borough Council, and that will be part of the council’s upcoming budget discussions.

“I’m very hopeful we’ll be funded at 65,” King told the College Township Council. “The next police academy starts the first week of February. We’ve got background done now on our top six or seven candidates.”

Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter.

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