Bellefonte

Committee looking at increasing efficiency of Bellefonte police

Bellefonte police officer Matt Rickard drives through Bellefonte on Saturday, January 9 2016.
Bellefonte police officer Matt Rickard drives through Bellefonte on Saturday, January 9 2016. adrey@centredaily.com

The Bellefonte Police Department’s budget costs taxpayers about $1.4 million, about $500,000 more than two police forces in similar sized, nearby communities.

Bellefonte police operate at about $1.4 million annually. Hollidaysburg and Clearfield police departments run taxpayers about $879,000 and $950,000, respectively. Each police force serves county seats.

The findings were part of a Bellefonte ad hoc committee composed of borough management, council and police. The task force was prompted due to the borough’s routinely tight general fund.

“We have to be mindful of our citizens,” Bellefonte police Chief Shawn Weaver said. “We work for them.”

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart pointed out, however, that the Hollidayburg and Clearfield borough police departments don’t include all of the expenses in their police budgets that Bellefonte does. The committee specifically noted that the CPD does not have part-time secretaries, meter attendants and animal control officers included in its budget.

Decisions that will impact the BPD are in the hands of Mayor Tom Wilson and council.

“That’s interesting, because the police force in total is under the mayor and the financing and budgeting is under council,” Stewart said. “They both have some say in how this works. It is a cooperative process. The whole idea of the task force was not to make unilateral decisions, but to look at ways to very carefully make changes that would be financially advantageous and maintain or improve service. That’s the goal.”

Clearfield and Hollidaysburg police departments employ different sized staffs.

Bellefonte has 11 full-time police officers and a part-time officer.

The CPD has seven full-time officers and six part-time officers. The HPD has six full-time officers. Hollidaysburg is also covered by police from other departments through a countywide mutual agreement in Blair County.

“One issue is the cost associated with full-time officers and benefits for full-time officers,” Stewart said. “Both active duty and retirement benefits push up costs of the department.”

Although it is not in anyone’s plans to terminate and replace current full-time officers with part-time officers, Stewart said, the committee recommended hiring part-time police officers to replace full-time officers when they resign for another job or retire.

The police force in total is under the mayor and the financing and budgeting is under council. They both have some say in how this works.

Ralph Stewart, Bellefonte borough manager

Weaver, in a separate set of recommendations from the committee, said he would research the use of part-time officers. He is concerned that an increased use of part-time police officers would create high turnover rates in the police force, which the committee also acknowledged in its report.

“One can concur that having too many part-time staff could in fact lower the highest standards to which we are accustomed,” the committee reported. “The potential problems associated with utilizing part-time police officers are turnover ... and less commitment. Moreover, the part-time police officers require the same level of training.”

The committee also suggested that council and the mayor consider reassigning the BPD’s detective position as either an officer or dual detective/officer role.

Weaver and the committee agreed that overtime should be managed more efficiently.

The BPD had overtime costs of about $80,000, double that of the CPD and HPD, in 2014. Bellefonte police were able to cut more than 300 hours of overtime in 2015, according to Weaver.

Weaver suggested that the BPD take three-year, $2,500, unlimited mileage leases on government contracted police vehicles, which he said would cut up-front costs by one-third. He would also like to work with borough management to receive state and federal grants.

Bellefonte police, even with a larger full-time police force, have coverage of the borough 21 hours a day. Clearfield and Hollidaysburg boroughs have coverage every hour of the year due to scheduling differences.

Weaver and the committee would like to work on scheduling to provide 24-hour coverage for the borough, possibly in part by coming to a mutual aid agreement with Spring Township.

Shawn Annarelli: 814-235-3928, sannarelli@centredaily.com; @Shawn_Annarelli; Jalelah Ahmed: 814-231-4631, jahmed@centredaily.com, @jalelahahmed

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