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Borough council must resolve police dispute

August 02, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last November Chambersburg Borough Councilman Tom Newcomer defeated incumbent Mayor Robert Morris, saying he saw a need for change and new leadership in the borough. But some of the changes that Newcomer brought have upset the police force, a dispute the borough council must mediate.

Chambersburg has a weak-mayor form of government, with the executive voting only when it's necessary to break a tie. But the mayor does oversee the police department and its $2 million annual budget.

Since he took office he's worked to get more police on the street, particularly in the area of West Catherine Street, where residents have complained about loud music, partying at all hours and intoxicated juveniles. But the mayor has also irritated rank-and-file officers and the chief.

Last month police filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, alleging that the mayor had interfered with police contract negotiations and tried to intimidate officers by cursing and berating those on the police negotiating team.

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Newcomer denied that he had cursed or attempted to intimidate anyone, but apologized to the police, the council and the town "for any discomfort I may have caused."

He was upset, he said, because the police team announced it wanted to go to binding arbitration before the borough finished detailing its offer.

Now Chambersburg Police Chief Michael DeFrank has sent the council a letter which claims that since Newcomer took office, he's undermined the chief's authority and hurt departmental morale.

Newcomer wouldn't comment on the letter, in which DeFrank accused the mayor of changing procedures without listening to anyone with a law-enforcement background, which the mayor lacks.

The relationship between elected officials and police works best when the politicians find a chief they can trust and let that person handle day-to-day management of the department.

Now the council needs to decide if that person is DeFrank, and if so, give him a vote of confidence and help the chief and the mayor forge a new working relationship.

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