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Regional police departments expand, contract, and even die amid money problems

Multiple regional police departments in South-Central Pennsylvania have either added more municipalities to their jurisdiction, or had some removed from them, r...

Multiple regional police departments in South-Central Pennsylvania have either added more municipalities to their jurisdiction, or had some removed from them, recently.

In the case of the Southwestern Regional Police Department in York County, the department shut down one month after a municipality left it and joined the Northern York County Regional Police Department. Southwestern Regional couldn't afford to provide policing services after that.

Spring Grove Borough left for York Area Regional Police department.

Since the beginning of this year, NYCRPD has taken on three more municipalities, including North Codorus, Heidelburg, and Manheim Townships. Now, the department provides policing services to a total of 11 in York County. It has also hired four new officers to take on the new workload.

It's not just York County. The largest regional police department in Lancaster County, Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department, began serving East Petersburg at the beginning of the year. The borough decided to end coverage with the Manheim Township Police Department because of rising costs, a 40% increase over the last year. NLCRPD also covers Clay, Penn, and Warwick Townships as partners, meaning the department serves some 42,000 residents.

Five years ago, Dauphin County officials released a study on the benefits of consolidating police departments and it showed the county could save area municipalities up to $18 million every year. One suggestion from the Police Executive Research Forum was to create a county-wide police force that would require changes to state law. The group says in six of the seven scenarios suggested in the study, area municipalities would save millions.

Paxtang Borough dissolved its police and started getting services from the Swatara Township Police Department. Their chief says that merger is saving taxpayer dollars.

Meanwhile, smaller municipalities throughout the Commonwealth have to make tougher decisions about who they want policing them. Some are too small to afford their own police departments, and there isn't any talk of mergers, so they rely on State Police. Pennsylvania State Police protect roughly 22% of Pennsylvanians every day, but that may change if pending legislation gets to the governor's desk.

House Bill 959 was introduced in May, 2019. If signed into law, it would require municipalities with 2,000 residents or less to pay $8.00 per resident in order to keep getting service from the Pennsylvania State Police. If a municipality has more than 20,000 residents, each resident would equal another $166 to the tab to keep State Police around. That bill was last introduced to the House Transportation Committee and has not been approved since.

But while struggling municipalities find it hard to make ends meet, the State Police services they rely on are facing a budget shortfall of their own. Funding appears slight. According to an audit released by the State Auditor General's Office last year, billions of dollars have been diverted from Penndot to the Pennsylvania State Police since the 2012-2013 fiscal year. That money is supposed to cover bridge and road repairs, as well as other transportation infrastructure projects. Considering Pennsylvania's bridges and roads have been consistently rated among the worst in the country, there is clearly a broader money issue at play.

As for the new residents under the protection of the Northern York County Regional Police Department, they're already saving money. Residents who were already under its protection are also saving money, because the costs are spread through the municipalities.