The police departments of Boyertown and Colebrookdale Township will cease to operate as separate forces June 1 and become Berks County’s third regional police department.

Talks on combining the police forces of the adjoining, demographically similar municipalities has been going on for well over a year.

Colebrookdale commissioners even hired its last chief, Richard Drumheller, who had recently retired as the longtime Pottstown police chief, on a one-year basis with the understanding that he would guide the department through the merger process.

But it took a series of ordinances, addressing issues such as officer pensions and benefits, to bring it to fruition.

“Everything is new because it’s literally an entirely new entity,” said longtime Boyertown Police Chief Barry Leatherman, who will head the newly formed Eastern Berks Regional Police Department.

The officers in each department have worked across the municipal boundary and know the lay of the land because they routinely respond to each others’ calls.

“We work probably as closely as two neighboring departments can,” Leatherman said. “The adjustment is going to be to work as a single workforce.”

The merger allows better distribution of officers and supervision. Four sergeants will supervisor the patrol officers, Leatherman said.

Boyertown has seven officers and Colebrookdale has six. The authorized strength of the new department is 14, so it will need to hire an officer.

Leatherman said a larger department will finally afford him the luxury of being able to designate one of the officers as a criminal investigator. The investigator will follow up on many of the criminal cases, allowing uniform officers to return to patrol sooner.

“Both departments have experimented with that role, but we both have found the workload of that type of work individually is borderline," Leatherman said. "Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it's not, so it was really hard to justify sacrificing one of the officers on a seven-man force.”

The new department will operate out of the police station in the center of Boyertown. The building at 16 W. Philadelphia Ave. was one of the buildings donated by National Penn Bank in November 2015 that became vacant when BB&T purchased the bank in April of that year.

The borough started a renovation about a year later with the intention of converting it to its police station before merger talks even began in earnest.

The merger is part of a trend of consolidating emergency services in the Berks, the region and elsewhere.

A number of independent fire and ambulance companies have been dissolved over the last decade or so to form regional fire department and EMS organizations, and that process continues, with fewer chiefs running larger departments.

It’s similar with law enforcement. Within the last two years, the supervisors in Oley and Heidelberg townships disbanded their part-time police departments and entered into contracts with larger police departments, Central Berks Regional and South Heidelberg Township, respectively.

South Heidelberg also picked up coverage, on a contractual basis, of Robesonia and Wernersville after Western Berks Regional Police Department folded over funding disputes between those two municipalities.

Fleetwood police also provide coverage on a contractual basis to Topton and Richmond and Ruscombmanor townships.

The Berks-Lehigh Regional Department disbanded a decade ago, also a failed experiment in regionalization.

Eastern Berks Regional will join Central Berks and Northern Berks Regional Police Department — Leesport and Maidencreek and Ontelaunee township — as an entity with a joint police commission.

Colebrookdale District Police Department, as the township's force is formally called, originally formed as a regional police force, covering Colebrookdale and its Berks neighbor, Douglass Township.

It split up after Douglass withdrew from the regional force and formed its own department in the late 1990s.

Officials onboard

Boyertown Council President Frank Deery said the borough and township will contribute evenly to the annual budget of about $2.2 million.
 
Officials arrived at that split as a result of investigation of data including the number of calls generated in each municipality, he said.

“Both are very similar,” Deery said. “Initially, we’ll do this evenly, and we’ll revisit it (funding) in a couple of years to make sure one area hasn't expanded more than the other.”
 
For Boyertown, the $1.1 million annual contribution is about $90,000 less than the current police budget, he said.

“This makes so much sense, geographically, in that Colebrookdale Township surrounds Boyertown on three sides and the police have to travel through the borough to get to a lot of calls,” Deery said.
 
Deery is serving as president of the joint police commission as well as his council, but the leadership of the commission will rotate annually, with a representative from each municipality serving every other year.
 
The commission is composed of six members: two elected officials from each municipality and the manager of the township and borough.
 
Leatherman was given a contract for the first time in his career. He will be paid $100,000 a year to start, Deery said.
 
Todd Gamly, president of the Colebrookdale commissioners, said social media comments since the police merger was announced this week indicate there’s a lot of support from residents.
 
“We’ve been working on this for a lot of years, and we believe it makes sense,” he said.
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