By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR NEW CASTLE BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Several Lawrence County communities are talking about expanding police coverage and some are considering banding together to form a regional police force.
Eight communities responded to a survey of the Lawrence County Council of Governments designed to provide information to state officials for a feasibility analysis of regional policing in Lawrence County, said Bob Callen, director of the COG.
At least one other community has expressed an interest in the study, but hasn't responded to the survey.
Local officials decided to look at a regional police force after getting requests for more police presence in communities that just can't afford it, said Everett Bleakney, COG president and Wayne Township supervisor.
"So if you combine with other municipalities, combine your funds, there would be a possibility that you would have greater, if not full-time, coverage," he said.
Police protection is something Mahoning Township supervisors have been talking about for some time, even to the point of asking for private donations to help start a part-time police force, said Supervisor Ponchocq Exposito.
But they aren't ruling out the possibility of a regional or combined force with other communities, he said. Exposito said they did not respond to the COG survey on regional policing, but are interested.
"We feel we've got to get some kind of police protection out in the area," he said. He said they will likely vote on the matter of participating in the feasibility study Feb. 12.
Current system: The Pennsylvania State Police patrol the township, and all others in the county that have no police or only part-time departments.
Exposito said there have been times when state police were busy with other matters and took up to 45 minutes to respond to accidents and other matters in the township.
State police say they, like many others, are limited in their resources.
"We respond to every call we get, but the times of response can be fairly lengthy depending on what kind of presence we have in an area. If it's an area with a lot of mileage to cover, we have to prioritize our calls and our response isn't going to be as fast as a municipality with its own department," said Jack Lewis, press secretary for the Pennsylvania State Police in Harrisburg.
Lewis said they are working on putting more state troopers on the streets. The governor has approved funding for an additional 100 state troopers and there are plans to regionalize dispatch centers to free up more troopers for patrol, he said.
The state police do encourage communities to start their own police forces or regionalized one, he said.
"There is no way we can provide the type of service like a municipality that has its own department," Lewis said.
Some Lawrence County communities that already have part-time police forces are also interested in looking at a regionalized force.
Pulaski Township Supervisor Terry Sander said his community will look at any proposal, even though Pulaski already has two full-time police officers.
"If it's a money-saving proposition and we can still maintain township coverage, [a regional police force] might be something we would be interested in," he said.
Bleakney, whose township has four part-time police officers, agrees.
He said residents are asking for police protection, but they just can't afford it. Even if supervisors raised taxes to the state's legal limit, it wouldn't be enough to pay for a full-time police force, he noted.
Not for everyone: But not everyone is interested in added police protection.
Norb Kendall, Wilmington Township supervisor, said his community responded to the COG survey, but isn't interested in a regional police force. He said they are satisfied with the Pennsylvania State Police, which has its barracks in neighboring Neshannock Township.
"We don't have what we consider a high-crime area. They [state police] have done well by us," he said.
And other Lawrence County communities, such as New Castle and Ellwood City, already have full-time police forces.
The state's analysis for those communities interested in a regionalized force should start sometime in March and be done by October, Callen said.
Other communities that responded to the survey are Perry, Taylor, Union and Pulaski townships and Ellport and New Wilmington boroughs.