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Tight economy thins police ranks

June 17, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- Waynesboro Police Chief Mark King compares scheduling shifts in recent weeks to a juggling act.

"I understand the economy," he said. "We're trying to do more with less, and so is everyone else."

The borough force is comprised of 20 full-time positions, a school resource officer and a few part-time positions. However, two full-time positions were not filled after resignations, Officer Robert Stansfield is serving in Iraq, two full-time officers are out on leave and one full-time officer is dedicated to drug investigations rather than patrol.

"We are using our part-timers more than we have in the past," King said.

In Washington Township, Pa., the department has 15 full-time officers and one part-time officer. The complement was authorized at 16 full-time positions, but a vacancy remains due to a budget crunch.

The police chief and sergeant have been fulfilling patrol duties when other officers are unavailable, whether due to vacations, illness, court appearances or training.

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"We see more of those scheduling problems when we have mandatory training," Chief Barry Keller said.

Both King and Keller said they understand financial constraints and won't ask for more officer positions at this time. Yet, they would prefer to be fully staffed.

"I wouldn't ask for more than what we had. ... It's up to the borough council and the taxpayers at this point," King said.

The Washington Township Supervisors threatened police layoffs could occur in October when they applied for a federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Recovery program grant. That grant would fund two positions for three years.

Keller said he's "a little bit concerned" when he hears large numbers of applications were submitted for the Department of Justice program, which will "create or save" about 5,500 jobs in law enforcement. An announcement of recipients is expected on or before Sept. 30.

King applied for one position through the same program. He also is talking to Shippensburg (Pa.) Police Department Chief Fred A. Scott, who wants to start a police academy at Shippensburg University in which people could work full time and attend classes on a part-time schedule.

"It's getting harder and harder even to get part-time officers," King said.

King said he's seeing a slight increase in burglaries as the economy worsens, but Keller said he does not perceive a change in the rate.

Waynesboro Borough Manager Lloyd Hamberger said township and borough officials plan to talk about merging police services, but they have not met yet.

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