KENNETT SQUARE>>A plan to form the largest regional policing agency in Chester County has expanded to include seven municipalities.
“We’re past the dating stage, now we are moving into the let’s take this seriously stage,” said Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick. “This will be a big change for all of the municipalities.”
Municipalities considering a regional police force include Kennett Square, Kennett Township, New Garden Township, Avondale, London Grove Township, West Grove and East Marlborough Township.
Kennett Square was one of four municipalities considering a regional police force, along with New Garden, London Grove and Kennett Township. However, other municipalities have since expressed interest in joining.
A study by the state Department of Community and Economic Development to determine the viability of a regional police force has already been completed. The study provides an in-depth analysis of current police operations locally, community demographics, type of service calls and volume. This study will be used as a guide in the formation of a regional police force.
For municipalities which already have local police coverage, the savings could be substantial. For those that don’t, it could mean a huge increase in taxes. London Grove officials are embracing the concept, and will put the question to a referendum in the spring primary election. Initial estimates indicate it would cost London Grove about $1.2 million to become part of a regional police force.
Fetick said that not all seven municipalities are committed to regional policing, but there is enough interest to move to the next stage, as he called it.
“Now is the heavy lifting part,” he said.
Representatives from the municipalities must come to terms on things like staffing, budget, where the central building will be located, and even how the commission will operate.
For Kennett Square to become a part of the regional policing plan, Fetick said there were two non-negotiables -- that two officers be dedicated in the borough at all times, and that the school resource officer program and officers involved with students in after-school activities continue.
“The big thing for us is that we have no decrease in service and we must see some kind of financial value,” Fetick said.
Each municipality has designated a committee to look into the concept. As input is received, the plan is tweaked. For example, Fetick said he felt staffing levels were too low, and that not enough hours were allocated for vacation time. Those numbers have since been reworked.
Ultimately, the decision on whether the regional policing concept becomes a reality will be determined by supervisors and borough councilors of the targeted municipalities. After a couple of committee meetings in the coming weeks, a public hearing session will be set.
“We like each other enough to keep talking,” Fetick said. “If we can get this finalized by the end of the year, we could be two years away. There are still issues like police contracts, pensions, a lot of heavy lifting. First we have to get through the basics.”
New Garden Police Chief Gerald Simpson is an advocate for regional policing.
“I see regional policing as a tremendous benefit for the community,” said Simpson. “If this is the viable way to go, I’m behind it.”