The Northern Berks Regional Police Department will disband in six months, the three-member police commission decided Monday evening.
The decision came on a 2-1 vote with commission members from Ontelaunee Township and Leesport backing the move.
Commissioner Gary Hadden of Ontelaunee made the motion to disband, seconded by Leesport Mayor Granville Sandridge. Both voted in favor of the dissolution.
Commissioner Heidi Fiedler of Maidencreek Township voted against the motion to disband the 13-member regional department.
The department, formed in 1991, will cease to exist on May 10, according to the motion.
Ontelaunee will form its own police force, Hadden said.
A cloud of uncertainty hangs over police services in Leesport and Maidencreek.
Hadden said it is possible Ontelaunee’s new department would serve Leesport, but there no agreement has been made.
David Franke, an alternate commission member from Maidencreek, said that township would have police service but gave no details.
The decision to disband came after an at times raucous 1½-hour meeting marked by finger pointing, shouting and allegations of mistrust on all sides of the issue.
Fiedler accused Hadden and Sandridge of excluding her from making the decision to disband, which she alleged was made behind closed doors.
“I didn’t know about this until Friday,” Fiedler said.
Several speakers laid the blame at Fiedler’s feet, calling for her resignation.
“I want you to resign,” demanded Eric Bauman of Maidencreek, accusing Fiedler of meddling in the department.
Bauman called on the commissioners to rescind the vote to disband and hope that Maidencreek officials would not reappoint Fiedler to the commission during the January reorganization.
Mike Cardell of Maidencreek, a police officer in Upper Macungie Township in Lehigh County, warned of extensive legal costs involved in disbanding.
Cardell had firsthand experience with this as an officer on the Berks Lehigh Regional force when it disbanded in 2012.
Others warned that the cost of separate municipal police forces would be higher than banding together in a regional department.
As the meeting progressed, the mood of the crowd seemed to support maintaining a regional force.
Franke, a retired police officer, urged the commissioners to reconsider the vote to disband.
“This affects not only the police officers and the commission but everybody in our three communities,” he said.
In a procedural error, the commission voted before allowing time for public comment. The room erupted in charges that the commission was silencing residents, along with calls for a referendum.
Solicitor Andrew Rongaus of Chester County advised the commission to take a second vote.
The commission complied and repeated the 2-1 vote to disband.