Last updated: February 01. 2014 10:51PM - 1164 Views

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The five Luzerne County boroughs and one township considering a new, regional police force near Pittston get our full support as they study the plan to improve public safety.

Our only questions are these:

Why hasn’t this happened in the area sooner?

And why aren’t more municipalities, including cities, on board?

For years — make that, decades — people concerned about the wise use of tax dollars have been pointing to the trends and pitching the notion that Luzerne County’s many, little communities at least work together, if not actually merge together.

The prices for buying police vehicles, uniforms and equipment continue to rise.

The populations of the region’s townships and boroughs continue to decline or post only meager growth.

Meanwhile, poverty and other social issues correlated to the prevalence of crime (for instance, gang involvement) continue to persist locally and in some cases intensify.

Unless someone foresees those patterns in Northeastern Pennsylvania changing soon, it becomes obvious that elected officials, with the support of their constituents, had better do things differently. Much differently. That’s particularly true when it comes to putting well-trained police officers on area streets at all hours of the day and, especially, the night.

Nearly four years ago, in April 2010, a report on Luzerne County policing spotlighted the fact that some communities can no longer afford forces, relying instead on state police coverage or a neighboring municipality’s cops. Other places patch together a crew of mostly part-timers.

“Perhaps the most important reason for a transition to regionalized police forces in Luzerne County is the loss of full-time officers in boroughs,” stated the report, jointly produced by the Pennsylvania Economy League and The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development.

“A reduction of full-time officers serving borough forces from 57.5 percent in 1972 to 31.6 percent in 2006 poses some obvious problems,” according to the report, “one of which is the limitation of borough departments to respond to a series of law enforcement needs at a given time.”

Contrast that scenario with what happened to the nearby Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, which serves multiple communities in Monroe County. “The force began with 15 officers,” according to information posted on the department’s website. “Now, 14 years later, it employs 38 officers within specialized divisions.” Those specialties include narcotics, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), a mountain bike patrol, a motorcycle unit, K-9 unit and SWAT team. The department covers an area of more than 200 square miles.

The police proposal in Luzerne County, as outlined earlier this month by representatives from the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, calls for a regional force that would safeguard some 17,600 people over 23.5 square miles. Participating towns could include, at least initially, Avoca, Dupont, Duryea, Hughestown, Laflin and Jenkins Township.

Let’s hope elected officials and residents in these places will remain focused on a sensible solution, not get sidetracked by personalities, parochial hang-ups and pure self-interest. Devise an equitable way of sharing costs. Secure start-up funds. Hammer out the details.

Give Luzerne County a bona fide regional police force.

Modern technology, such as global positioning systems that allow patrol officers to pinpoint and respond to places within a wide territory, make it possible.

Modern realities make it imperative.

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