Topton's new police coverage raises concerns

Pennsylvania State Police

With police coverage changing, Topton residents are concerned about emergency situations, State Police response time, and enforcement of local ordinances.

State Police Lt. Craig Stine provided a presentation to Topton Borough Council and a small group of residents on Dec. 10.

Brandywine Heights Superintendent Dr. Martin Handler said his concern is about the emergency situations.

Advertisement

“Hardly a week goes by when you don’t hear somewhere in the country about a parent who lost it, or a kid, or a hostage situation, or an active shooter,” said Handler, asking about response time and working with other police departments.

Stine explained that in addition to the marked cars, there are troopers in unmarked cars in the community and they all have to respond to a call, including an emergency situation such as an active shooting. He also explained that the State Police work closely with the neighboring police departments, including Fleetwood and Kutztown police departments.

Handler asked about training for school building receptionists on how to assess someone on whether or not to allow access to the school.

Stine said the state police has a risk and vulnerability assessment team out of Harrisburg to conduct a school safety assessment. Handler noted that State Police already has conducted an assessment at Brandywine. Stine also suggested placing a School Resource Officer at the school, noting that students often feel more comfortable talking to an officer they see often at the school.

Leon Moyer, Topton resident, wanted to know about enforcement of local ordinances.

“We don’t do anything with them,” said Stine, noting that legally, state police cannot enforce local ordinances and codes. The only parking enforcement they can enforce relates to the state vehicle code.

“We only enforce laws in the state crime laws, state vehicle laws, state game laws, and state dog laws,” said Stine.

K. Ray Stauffer, council president, said council has discussed code enforcement.

“It’s something we need to look into and look into quick,” said Stauffer.

State Police response time was also a concern for residents.

“Everybody’s concerned about response time,” said Stine. “That depends. If your mailbox was smashed three hours ago and you just woke up, he’ll be there when he can get there. If someone is trying to kick in your back door, we’ll be there right away.”

“When you’re a large, regional police department, you have to prioritize,” said Stine.

Stine said state troopers are very proactive, they are out in the community, not sitting there waiting for calls. State police conduct seatbelt enforcement, regulatory check points, patrol known high traffic crash areas, “trying to prevent crashes.”

“As proactive of a presence as we can provide is what we will provide. I know you will see troopers right away,” said Stine. “We do a lot of traffic enforcement and in doing so that provides a proactive presence.”

Their traffic enforcement helps prevent a lot of crime, he said.

“If you have a place that has a lot of accidents, you’ll see us there,” he said.

Topton Council has been looking for police services ever since Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Department announced their decision to dissolve as on Dec. 31, said Stauffer. They contacted other municipalities in the area, including Kutztown and Fleetwood, during their search for police coverage. Maxatawny has been in discussions about creating their own police force and had approached Topton with a proposal with a police coverage contract.

“Basically, because of negotiations and other problems, we thought it would be best to go with the state police for the start of 2013,” said Stauffer.

“We exhausted all efforts on a short term,” said Michael S. Wagaman, council Vice President. “There was no solution that was immediate. This was the only immediate solution.”

Recently, Maxatawny Township has decided to put to vote in May for residents to determine if Maxatawny should create a police force. Maxatawny Township and Lyons Borough also decided to opt for state police coverage for the start of 2013.

“If Maxatawny wants to start a police department, we will listen but it has to be for the benefit of our residents,” said Stauffer.

Topton Borough will be covered by State Police starting Jan. 1.

“We are not in the business of soliciting police work,” said Stine. “We are required by law to enforce and to cover a place that has no active full time or part time police department.”

Topton does not have a contract with State Police.

“We don’t sign any contracts, we’re here because the law says you won’t be without police coverage,” said Stine.

State Police is funded by the Driver’s License Fund.

“Other than an event that requires extra troopers, there is no cost to the borough,” said council member Marcus V. Dolny.

The 2013 Topton Borough Budget includes police funds budgeted for covering the costs associated with the disbanding of Berks-Lehigh Regional Police Department. Council does not know the figures for those costs yet, some of which includes pension costs.

Stine provided information about State Police services.

“A lot of people talk about regional policing, we’ve been doing it for 107 years, starting with 228 in the entire state on horseback, and we’re 4,677 with 1,600 civilian employees now.”

One of 15 troops in the state, Troop L Reading is the third smallest, covering about 2,000 square miles in Berks, Lebanon, and Schuylkill counties.

“People don’t realize the quantity of work per trooper we do,” said Stine.

About 140 uniformed troopers, about 50 in the crime section, and a handful of staff troopers work in Stine’s unit, he said. Not including November and December, there were about 42,000 calls, 6,400 criminal reports, 35 fatal crashes, 38 fatalities, 780 DUI arrests, and 26,000 citations in 2012.

Looking at Topton’s numbers, Stine said Topton had about 558 calls for 2011.

State police services include unsolved crimes, fugitive unit, auto theft, Major Case Team, Patrol Services, Forensic Services Unit, Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Specialist, Vehicle Fraud Investigators, Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center, Amber Alert Activations, Liquor Control Enforcement, Polygraph, Fire Marshall, K-9, Aviation, Drug Recognition Experts, Special Emergency, Response Team, Clandestine Lab Response Team, Hazardous Device and Explosives Section, Equestrian Detail, Computer Crime.

For more information about the State Police, visit www.psp.state.pa.us.

For emergency calls dial 9-1-1. For non-emergency calls, dial 610-378-4011.