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Pa. police chief's officer request sparks council debate

November 14, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The proposed 2007 budget for Chambersburg called for two more police officers, but Chief Michael T. DeFrank asked the Borough Council on Monday night to add three officers next year and six more over the following three years.

More than three hours into the meeting, the council had yet to begin discussion on preliminary approval of the 2007 budget, but DeFrank's request earlier in the meeting got a sympathetic hearing from several council members.

DeFrank said a study of the department's manpower needs concluded that five officers should be added between 2007 and 2010, but it did not address the upcoming retirements of three patrol sergeants by 2013. The chief said he also will retire during that period.

The department, including DeFrank, has 31 officers, Mayor John Redding said. If the council approves two or three positions for 2007, DeFrank said, those officers will have to attend the police academy for six months and undergo about three months of field training.

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"It's got to be at least September '07 before you see any benefit from the hirees," he said.

Not having more officers would also negatively affect the manpower needs of the department's Crime Impact Team, which conducts many of the drug investigations for the department, because members would have to be used to augment patrols, DeFrank said.

Council President William McLaughlin said paying for more officers in the future will not be easy as about 80 percent of the general fund budget is for personnel costs.

"There's not a lot of paper clips out there to cut," McLaughlin said. "I've been accused for 15 years of having a checkbook for a heart," but the borough has to face financial realities, he said.

Other boroughs and cities are already cutting police and firefighter positions because of budget constraints that Chambersburg also will face within a few years, he said.

"None of the decisions in the future are going to be very easy," Councilman Robert Wareham said. Cutting public safety, however, is not the answer, he said.

"I don't think hiring one more cop is going to mean we can't open the pool next summer," Councilwoman Sharon Bigler said. "Just hire three."

If it becomes a choice between street repairs and police, Councilwoman Elaine Swartz said, "I'll learn to move around potholes. I'm not willing to dodge bullets."

Councilman Glenn Manns, a retired sergeant with the department, suggested the borough hire three officers in 2007 and cut the number scheduled to be hired in 2008.

During a break in the meeting, Swartz, who is married to a police officer, said she would rather see the borough put off plans to build a new police headquarters in 2008 rather than have fewer officers.

"We need more officers, not another station," Councilman Heath Talhelm said. "It's not going to make the streets any safer."

The proposed budget calls for a 3-mill property tax increase in 2007. When Borough Manager Eric Oyer presented the budget last month, he recommended raising taxes a total of 10 mills by 2010 to pay for additional police and firefighters and other projects.

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