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Residents show support for Pa. police chief

August 14, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Backers of Chambersburg Police Chief Michael DeFrank presented a petition to the Chambersburg Borough Council Tuesday night, throwing their support behind the chief and asking council members to do the same.

"We respectfully request elected officials support Chief DeFrank, and that he be allowed to run the Chambersburg Police Department in the same professional matter he has for 20 years," the petition read in part.

Controversy between DeFrank and Mayor Tom Newcomer erupted last month when the police officers' union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the borough. Officers alleged Newcomer called three members of the union's bargaining team into a closed-door meeting, where he swore at them and attempted to intimidate them.

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According to the charge, the incident happened after the union members announced their intent to move to binding arbitration in labor negotiations. The police officers' current contract ends later this year.

As mayor, Newcomer oversees the police department. He is also a member of the negotiating committee.

Chambersburg resident Dru Cramer, who circulated the petition, asked Tuesday if there is an alternative to Newcomer overseeing the department.

"I feel the relationship with the mayor and the chief will never be close-knit. Why doesn't the council let the borough manager oversee the police department?" she asked.

Borough Solicitor Tom Finucane said by state law the police department is under the complete control of the mayor and the council has no authority.

Elaine Swartz, whose husband is a borough police officer, said Newcomer needs to have a better dialogue with the officers.

"Part of being a leader is the inclusion of people who have knowledge," she said.

Newcomer said Tuesday he is meeting with DeFrank regularly, and that when the time comes for changes, he wouldn't do anything without the department's input.

"I'm ready to put it aside. Let's get a contract," said Newcomer, who has denied that he ever tried to intimidate the officers.

Council President Bill McLaughlin said he also believed it was time to move on.

"The council unanimously believes that we have an excellent police department. This is not an issue the members of council will turn a blind eye to, but the legal responsibilities are with the mayor," he said.

Last week the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against the borough after reviewing the union's charge, and assigned a conciliator to meet with the borough and the Chambersburg Police Officers' Association to work out the issue. The board scheduled a hearing for October.

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