The Northern Berks Regional Police Department lives.
In a dramatic turn of events, the Northern Berks Regional Police Commission rescinded a previous vote to disband the department during a meeting Monday night in Ontelaunee Township building.
In November, the deeply divided commission voted 2-1 to dissolve the nearly three-decade agreement that provided police coverage to Leesport and the townships of Ontelaunee and Maidencreek.
Representatives to the three-member commission from Ontelaunee and Leesport voted to disband, while Maidencreek’s representative opposed the move.
Monday’s vote, which was unanimous, breathes new life into the troubled department.
In a surprise announcement, the police commission announced the Chief Brian Horner will retire in the next few months.
Sgt. Robert Wood Jr. has been named officer in charge during a transition of leadership.
Horner, who is currently on administrative leave, will assist a consultant in preparing a cost analysis during the transition.
“The commission thanks Chief Horner for his committed service over the years he has supervised the department and provided effective law enforcement to the public,” the commission said in a prepared statement.
A hint that the parties were having second thoughts came last Thursday, when the Ontelaunee Township supervisors voted to rescind their October vote to dissolve the regional department and form their own police force.
The unanimous decision at Monday’s meeting, the commission said, was the product of collective efforts by all three municipalities and the Northern Berks police association.
The commission held an executive session last week at Albright College.
The department’s management problems were “hashed out” at the all-day session, according to commissioners Gary Hadden and David Franke.
“We all have worked diligently and cooperatively to open the lines of communication to achieve the goal of providing safe and effective law enforcement,” the commission’s statement said.”
Hadden, Ontelaunee’s representative on the commission, made the motion to rescind the dissolution of the department. It was seconded by Leesport’s Ron Strause, commission chairman. Franke, who represents Maidencreek, voted in the affirmative.
Franke, a township supervisor, replaced Heidi Fiedler as Maidencreek’s representative on the commission.
To ensure the financial obligations of each municipality are fairly apportioned, the commission has engaged an experienced police consultant to conduct a cost study that will be the basis for future department budgets.
The commission has also taken measures to improve transparency and accountability by implementing a revised internal affairs policy. Details were not provided, but the new system is designed to provide the commission with prompt notification about a police officer’s conduct and ensure a fair and impartial investigatory process.
Citing COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, the commission admitted only 25 people to Monday’s meeting, held in the public meeting room at the Ontelaunee Township building.
The decision raised the ire of about 15 people who were denied entrance to the building.
Joshua Meck, one of those denied admission, expressed support for the regional department.
“I’m happy they saved it for the officers' sake,” he said. “They’re entitled to their seniority and pensions.”
Meck, 36, a design engineer, said he plans to run for supervisor in Maidencreek Township.
Judy Halteman of Maidencreek, also denied admission, was less understanding.
“They’re eating crow in there,” she said. “Everything got rescinded.”