Seven Fields Exploring Regional Police Department with Evans City
Manager Tom Smith says officials have ruled out coverage by state troopers. The borough currently contracts its police services with Cranberry.
Seven Fields is continuing to explore its police service options, including a possible regional police force with Evans City borough.
“No decisions have been made yet,” said Seven Fields manager Tom Smith. “We just want to be very methodical. We are doing our due diligence by looking at all options.”
One thing that is clear though, the borough—which currently contracts its police services with neighboring Cranberry—will not rely on state police for coverage.
“We have determined state police is not a feasible options,” Smith said.
While the Butler County’s state police barracks are in Butler, Smith said troopers do have a presence in the Seven Fields area, including northern Allegheny County. However, Smith said officials ruled out state police because troopers would not enforce borough ordinances, including parking violations, or handle smaller incidents like vehicle lockouts.
“The council and Mayor Bayne felt that was not conducive to the level of services we wanted to provide for the residents of Seven Fields,” Smith said.
Smith said the borough’s other options are sticking with Cranberry’s services, starting its own police force or creating a regional department with Evans City.
The manager said the borough began to explore other options because it can no longer afford to pay a percentage of Cranberry police budget, especially as the township continues to attract residents and businesses.
“Cranberry continues to grow commercially and residentially, and we’re done,” Smith said of Seven Fields, which is a little less than one square mile in size. “We can’t continue to pay a certain percentage of an ever-growing budget. We can’t do it. We can’t just throw it on the backs of taxpayers.”
If it stays with Cranberry's police services, Seven Fields would be forced to raise taxes, Smith said. He said borough officials are loathe to do that, particularly in the current economic climate. He noted Seneca Valley also has raised school taxes for the last two school years.
Under the terms of the contract—which runs through 2016, with an earlier optional termination date at the end of 2014—Seven Fields, which is made up of about 2,887 residents, pays 7.5 percent of the Cranberry Township police budget. In 2012, that amounted to $337,074.
By 2016, the cost would equal about $400,000.
Smith said a cost comparison chart put together by Seven Fields shows the borough pays Cranberry an average cost of about $670 per police call.
The chart also shows what several other Western Pennsylvania communities, including Emsworth and Aleppo Township, pay to contract police services with neighboring municipalities. According to the chart, the average cost of a call in Emsworth is $170. In Aleppo, the cost is $245 per call.
Cranberry Township manager Jerry Andree has pointed out the chart only shows communities in Allegheny County. Those municipalities are able to use Allegheny County Police to investigate major crimes, he said.
In Butler County, there is no such department.
Andree said Cranberry Police has officers, including detectives, trained to deal with major investigations, crash reconstruction and crime scene reprocessing.
“We have gone to great lengths to make sure Borough officials understood our department’s high level of expertise, training, equipment and investigation capabilities—qualities which are unmatched among municipal police forces in Butler County,” Andree wrote in a blog on the township’s website regarding the situation.
“And when you compare the terms of our current contract with Seven Fields against those municipalities in Allegheny County which also contract out police service, it’s not quite an apples-to-apples comparison; local police departments there don’t need the expertise to investigate major crimes—that’s provided by Allegheny County’s Police Department. But here in Butler County, we don’t have that luxury; it’s either municipal police or state police.”
Smith called a Cranberry a “well-operated police department” but said Seven Fields may not need all the services Cranberry is able to provide. Smith said Cranberry handles about 40 to 45 calls per month for Seven Fields. The majority of those calls are for traffic violations and suspicious activity, he said.
“They do a wonderful job, but the services they’re providing, we may not need,” he said. “Our calls are pretty routine.”
Smith added Seven Fields is similar in size and demographics to Evans City. The boroughs are about 7 miles apart.
“Although they’re not next door neighbors, they’re not that far away that they couldn’t respond,” Smith said.
Meeting with Evans City
Smith said Seven Fields officials would vote at their next meeting on Monday, Sept. 10 on whether to proceed with a formal request for a feasibility study on a regional police department with Evans City.
Evans City would need to approve a similar request before the boroughs could move forward with a joint study, Smith said. Once the study is complete, Smith said the boroughs could become eligible for grant money from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for a regional force.
The boroughs would be assisted on the study by a consultant from the Governor's Center for Local Government Services, as state resource for local officials, Smith said. The study would break down the cost of forming a regional department, including staffing. Smith said there is no cost for the study through the government center.
“I believe we’ll have a better direction after talking with Evans City,” Smith said.
Evans City Mayor Gary Foster said Tuesday he and borough officials plan meet with Seven Fields before Evans City’s council meeting tonight (Wednesday) to talk about the prospect of providing police services to Seven Fields.
“There’s nothing official yet,” he said.
Officials concluded they needed more information on which direction Seven Fields would head for future protection before granting the request. They also expressed concerns of how Seven Fields’ plans for police protection could affect the township, particularly if the borough decided to rely on state police for coverage.
Supervisor Dave Root noted Cranberry likely would end up being called for backup before troopers could arrive in the area. In that scenario, Cranberry would not be paid for its services because of mutual aid agreements in place in the area, he said.
In addition, the borough’s decision could affect how Cranberry staffs its police department, Andree said. In his blog on the Cranberry website, the township manager also explained a decision by Cranberry earlier this summer to decline a request from Seven Fields for Cranberry to continue to provide services for the borough, but at a lower cost.
“Our response was that if we lowered the price, borough residents would get the same high-quality police protection as Cranberry residents, but for less than our residents themselves had to pay,” Andree wrote. “In effect, Cranberry residents would be subsidizing their neighbors’ police service.” (To read more of Andree’s blog, click here)
Seven Fields last renewed its police services contract with Cranberry in 2009 after a lengthy process that included mediation with a state police services consultant before coming to a mutual agreement, Andree said. Seven Fields has contracted police protection with Cranberry since 1993. Prior to that, the borough had it own police department.
Before a decision on police protection services is reached, Smith said there would be opportunities for residents to comment publicly on the matter.
“We have a very active resident base and everyone is talking about this,” he said. “We definitely want to give residents an opportunity to voice any concerns or give their input.”
What do you think of the police service options for Seven Fields? Do you have a good solution? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
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