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Study's defeat leaves cops in mayor's hands

December 13, 2002

On a split vote, the Chambersburg Borough Council has rejected one member's suggestion for a consultant study of the borough's police department, which has had stormy relations with Mayor Tom Newcomer since he took office in January. Now the mayor must decide if his policies are truly in the borough's best interests.

Under the borough's charter, the mayor oversees police operations. But this past summer, the Chambersburg Police Officers Association filed an unfair labor practice charge against Newcomer.

It alleged that Newcomer had tried to interfere in contract negotiations, specifically by attempting to intimidate officers after their negotiating team said it wanted to take some issues to arbitration.

In November, Newcomer told Police Chief Michael DeFrank not to attend an executive session of the borough council that was called to discuss, among other things, police overtime issues.

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At the same time, the mayor has limited the contact the chief can have with the council and the public. Unless the public wants to contact DeFrank about official police business, citizens must contact the mayor first to set up a meeting, Newcomer said.

The mayor's justification for some of the restrictions is that the police contract expires at year's end and the borough and the police association are in arbitration in an attempt to get a new pact.

We agree that directions to police should come from a single source, not from separate council members. But it is difficult to see how the council could intelligently decide on matters like the police budget without the chief's input.

And if the public can only talk to the chief about official business, someone who has observed what may or may not be illegal activity - an apartment with a lot of in-and-out traffic, for example - may hesitate to volunteer information.

Are those possibilities worth the absolute control that the mayor seems to want? Given the defeat of the study, only he can decide.

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