Twenty years ago, the Moshannon Valley had a lot more police protection than it does today.
In 2000, for example, Philipsburg borough had its own three-man police department. It had multiple cars. There were offices in the basement of the borough building. There was evidence being held and a bench where suspects could be handcuffed.
On April 1, 2004, the last police officer was gone. Leonard Bloom retired, and so did the police department. Today, Philipsburg has one person on duty to write tickets — an ordinance enforcement officer who can levy fines for borough infraction.
It’s not the only change. Chester Hill borough shares a ZIP code with Philipsburg but sits just across the creek in Clearfield County. Chester Hill used to have a police department back in the day, too. It was shuttered not long after the Philipsburg cop shop.
Then there was Osceola Mills, 4 miles down the road.
The name on the other half of Phililpsburg-Osceola Area School District had one officer for years. That department closed when he retired. The same thing happened in Houtzdale, another 4 miles along state Route 53.
The two communities were both covered for a time by Decatur Township. Between P-O and adjoining Moshannon Valley school districts, Decatur is the last department standing. It has one full time officer and one part time. Osceola Mills let its contract lapse due to cost. Houtzdale followed suit, with its contract ending in December 2016.
Andy Rebar has been a Decatur Township supervisor for 19 years. He’s seen the other department wither and people question the role of his department versus its expense.
“The atmosphere of the department based on what they’re dealing with changes quite often,” he said.
The local municipalities are facing challenges. The state wants communities without a department or an agreement with another agency to pay a fee to rely upon the Pennsylvania State Police. At the same time, plans are on the table to close the Philipsburg barracks and consolidate with Rockview, moving the station to a new location in Benner Township.
Maybe that’s good, he said.
“State police have the backing of the power of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That in itself is a good thing. I think their authority could be less challenged,” he said. “The state police issue if it was logistical and can actually happen is something I believe and my colleagues would support.”
But Rebar has also been through the idea of a regional department.
“The police department issue has been contentious,” he said. “Some people believe local police should not be policing. Others believe it’s the best way to have policing — they’re here. They know the hot spots.”
What he wants is for people to appreciate the logistics and necessities of operating a police department at the local level as well as the state.
“It’s a pretty big issue. Can we push it off on the state police just for that reason? Is $25 per capita enough? You have officers retiring, the pension issue. You’re going to need, in my mind, at least 500 more officers, maybe 1,200, to make 24/7 statewide policing work. I don’t like how the numbers work out,” he said. “It’s a very complex thing.”
Barbara Gette agrees.
The Philipsburg borough president says she needs “more concrete information, not rumor” to understand what is happening at the state level.
“We don’t know how we’re going to go,” she said. “We don’t know what the state’s going to require of us.”
The per capita fee is a concern in a community like Philipsburg, where the homeowners are permanent but the renters can come and go.
“Would they use the last census? How would it work?” Gette said. “We have a lot to figure out and a lot to find out.”