Mohnton Borough Council is looking for ways to improve police coverage in the borough, and one option under consideration is dissolving its three-member police department and contracting for service from another municipality.
Borough officials will publicly discuss options, including expansion of the police force, at its monthly work session on Wednesday evening, Council President Mike DeFeo said this week.
The council hired a consultant to provide a detailed analysis of the costs of expanding the police force versus obtaining coverage from another municipality, DeFeo said.
Mohnton has only three full-time officers, not nearly enough to provide around-the-clock coverage, he said. State police respond to calls when the borough department is out of service.
When officers call out sick, especially on a shift such as Halloween night that has a high volume of calls, it leaves the borough without anyone to respond to quality-of-life complaints, because state police won’t respond to calls that involve ordinance violations.
"Residents complain a lot about a lack of full-time police presence, a lack of police availability when they need them," DeFeo said.
Projected spending for police services accounts for nearly half of the borough’s budget $1.6 million budget for 2021, DeFeo said.
"It’s tough for a small borough to operate a fully functional police department," he said.
One option not under consideration is simplifying doing away with the local police force and relying on state police to respond to calls. DeFeo said that’s not palatable in a tightly packed borough that gets a lot of calls for quality-of-life matters.
Slightly more than 3,000 people reside in the borough that covers an area less than 1 square mile.
"We’re looking for ways to improve coverage," DeFeo said. "No option we’re considering goes to state police coverage."
Some residents became concerned when they got wind of the possible elimination of the police department.
According to the published minutes of the December Borough Council meeting, one resident voiced concerns about rumors of "defunding the police." DeFeo responded by saying the council would discuss police coverage at the Jan. 6 meeting via Zoom teleconference.
Two residents who asked to remain anonymous told the Reading Eagle recently that borough council’s November hiring of attorney John Stott for "labor-related issues" is a signal, since the only group of borough employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement is the police officers.
They also expressed concern that the discussion of police coverage is being held during a work session that officials have decided, due to the pandemic, to hold the meeting by teleconference.
Some people might not follow the meeting via Zoom, they said.
DeFeo said the notion that the council is moving in secret with an already formulated plan is ridiculous.
Borough meetings are sparsely attended even when they’re in person, he said.
A legal classified ad paid for by the borough was published in the Reading Eagle on Dec. 29.
The ad stated the meeting will include discussion about police coverage, and it provides links for residents to access the meeting by telephone or internet.