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Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. Four public media newsrooms are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.Our partner stations are WHYY in Philadelphia, WPSU in State College and witf in Harrisburg. Read all of the partner stories here.Pittsburgh’s WQED joins the collaboration as an associate partner. Support for this project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Half Of Pa. Municipalities Rely Fully On State Police

Gene J. Puskar
Pennsylvania State Police on horses outside Beaver Stadium before an NCAA college football game between Penn State and the Michigan State in State College, Pa.

All taxpayers in Pennsylvania pay for the state police, and the state police serves all taxpayers. It just serves some taxpayers a bit more.

According to the Pennsylvania State Police, 1,287 of the 2,561 municipalities in Pennsylvania have no local police force. 

Those townships and boroughs rely entirely on the state police for all criminal, traffic and public safety proceedings. They pay no additional fees for those services, and still collect half of the fines from traffic tickets.

There are eight counties, all rural, that are fully covered by state police: Cameron, Forest, Fulton, Juniata, Potter, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming. Without central population centers, it can be hard to justify having a standing police force for each township or borough.


But Pennsylvania has no state law that requires a municipality, any municipality, to have a police force. Wealthy or poor, urban or rural, if local leaders don't want to pay for local police, they don't have to.

Filling in the gaps

In most states, the county sheriff's office is responsible for patrolling municipalities without local police departments. Pennsylvania is one of a handful of states, all in the Northeast, that puts the primary responsibility on the state police system.

"Fortunately, we are a large department," said Trooper Adam Reed, public information officer for the Pennsylvania State Police. "But it means we need to make sure we have enough manpower and are equipped sufficiently to be able to provide the coverage that municipalities deserve."

According to a 2012 report by the Justice Center for Research at Penn State, PSP spent $540 million to provide policing municipalities without local forces, nearly half the agency's annual budget. It receives no direct reimbursement for these services.

"There is no fee to have us as the primary police force," said Reed. "Other than the taxes that everyone pays, there is no special fee that we collect from those areas."

Reed says the number of municipalities served exclusively by the PSP has remained constant over the past few years. Recently, many small boroughs and townships have dissolved their police forces to save money. But others have formed regional police forces, serving multiple communities together, and have forfeited their PSP coverage.

Find more of this report on the site of our partner, Keystone Crossroads