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Chief outlines concerns with mayor's actions

August 01, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg Police Chief Michael DeFrank said he is concerned about the department's morale and reputation because of actions by Mayor Tom Newcomer since he took office in January.

DeFrank outlined several incidents he said have undermined his authority and the morale of the department in a letter he sent to Newcomer and the 10-member Chambersburg Borough Council last week.

The tension between the police and the mayor surfaced earlier this month when the police department's union filed an unfair labor charge against the borough, alleging Newcomer used profanity and intimidated officers after the union said it would seek binding arbitration in contract negotiations.

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DeFrank said he has not heard an official response from the council or spoken to Newcomer since writing the letter.

"I felt it was time that the mayor be placed on notice as to how I see the problems that are developing with the department because of his actions, and to make sure Borough Council had an understanding of how I feel and how I see things going," DeFrank said Wednesday.

DeFrank said he is not seeking any action against the mayor at this time.

Newcomer said Wednesday he had no comment on the letter.

"I have not discussed the content of the letter with Chief DeFrank. I do not intend to elaborate on departmental matters with the public," Newcomer said. "When I took office I said I believed we have a good police department, and I believe in four years we will have a better police department."

In Pennsylvania, the mayor oversees the police department, even though most of the time the mayor does not have a law enforcement background.

DeFrank said in his 32 years in law enforcement - 20 of them in the borough - the other mayors he has worked under have recognized that fact.

"Mayor Newcomer has come to office with the same lack of knowledge, however he immediately set out to change established practice and procedures without the benefit of sitting back and watching and listening to the advice people in the know were trying to impart to him," DeFrank wrote in the letter.

A copy of the letter was anonymously sent to The Morning Herald.

DeFrank criticized several actions, including:

n The mayor's appointment of an advisory committee to assist him in the oversight of the department. DeFrank said he is not on the committee and he has not been asked to explain the department's operations.

n Going against the policy of rotating police vehicles on a two-year cycle and denying DeFrank's request to spend drug forfeiture money on two other vehicles to avoid spending tax money.

n Removing many clerical duties from the borough secretary and giving them to police clerical personnel without training them.

"Because of the actions and personality of the mayor, the morale of our officers is at the lowest point that I can recall during 20 years of service to the borough," he said. "I fear that if these problems with the mayor persist, our reputation will suffer."

The labor relations board has not issued a formal complaint against the borough on the unfair labor charge, a spokeswoman for the office said.

Newcomer has denied using the language he is accused of or trying to intimidate the officers, but at a recent council meeting he publicly expressed his regret that the incident escalated to the charge.

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