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Dissolving Small Town Police Forces

Wilkinsburg is one of several small towns considering the dissolution of their police department for financial reasons. It’s a trend among some small towns that dates back over 10 years. 

Christine Manganas of WESA’s content partner PublicSource joined Essential Pittsburgh in studio to talk about the issue with Ohio Township Police Chief Norbert Micklos, whose police force covers seven neighboring boroughs.

“Some small towns are so small they’re not having a patrol 24/7,” Manganas said. “These calls go to a neighboring borough, and in some places like Wilkinsburg, residents don’t feel that will do the job.”

Of the 130 municipalities in Allegheny County, 15 small towns depend on neighboring boroughs and two depend on the Pennsylvania State Police for law enforcement. Statewide, there are more than 2,500 municipalities. State police cover 50 percent of them full-time and more than 400 part-time.

Micklos said each community has their own idea of what they need regarding law enforcement. Most want a patrolman year-round, 24 hours a day, he said.

“We provide services based on what the boroughs’ needs are,” Micklos said.

Ohio Township also pitches in with supplemental services difficult for municipalities to fund or organize, including canine officers, school resource officers, full-time detectives and cars outfitted with computers.

Demographic changes have necessitated much of these changes, Micklos said.

“These smaller communities are great communities, but there’s no room for growth,” he said, referring to communities where police have existing contracts. “A lot of them are grown out and their tax bases are dwindling.”

This is in stark contrast to younger suburbs with new homes and businesses ripe for additional police support. Their business has been a boon for the Ohio Township Police Department. And from the law enforcement perspective, Micklos said officers look at the areas they cover as one big community.

Other communities like West Hempfield can afford their own police force, but choose not to.

“When disbanding a police force, people can consider the state police where they pay nothing for coverage,” Manganas said.

“But that depends on the size and coverage of the municipality,” Manganas states.

“There is currently some legislation that would mandate communities using the state police,” Micklos said.  “(They) would be assessed a per-person fee for the number of people in that community.”

Much like some of the communities they patrol, the state police is also face staffing issues, Micklos said.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

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