Our Opinion: Don’t be so quick to scrap plan for Back Mountain unified policing

September 21st, 2016 5:53 pm - updated: 6:21 pm.

One for all, and all for … oh, forget about it.

Another worthwhile attempt in Luzerne County to improve police protection – by having nearby communities combine their efforts, or regionalize – appears to have fizzled. This time, the nonstarter of a notion involved a half-dozen municipalities in the Back Mountain area.

The collapse of their proposed collaboration stings the sensibilities, not only because the Times Leader Opinion Board long has been a proponent of regionalization, but also because the Back Mountain seems prime territory for the concept to thrive.

Its governments try to stay on the same page through monthly meetings of the Back Mountain Community Partnership, an initiative started in 2008. Participants say the partnership was instrumental in creating a better response strategy for the area’s firefighters and EMTs. Six of the partnership’s seven members had agreed to investigate shared policing.

But the idea apparently petered out within mere months of the release of The Back Mountain Police Regionalization Study. Presented to the partnership in May, the study had been prepared and paid for by the state Department of Community and Economic Development’s Governor’s Center for Local Government Services.

Oddly, Dallas Borough officials never publicly declared a position on the proposal. Kingston Township reportedly would have been in, but wasn’t because other municipalities declined to join.

So a blueprint to protect a nearly 85-square-mile swath of the Back Mountain – with a police force consisting of 32 full-timers – basically went down the tubes for much the same reason boys become wallflowers at a junior high formal. No one wanted to be the first to dance.

Granted, detractors of the plan have legitimate concerns about costs.

Yet, as the Pennsylvania Economy League and others have pointed out, state taxpayers are unfairly carrying the financial burden of state police coverage for townships that don’t supply their own municipal cops. (See a recent Economy League commentary on its website, pelcentral.org.) And police protection usually can be much improved by establishing larger professional forces, rather than relying on tiny, part-time crews.

Elected officials in the Back Mountain had an opportunity to put the greater good above parochial interests but, for now, have retreated to their comfort zones. Let’s hope they will reconsider this police plan – even tweak it to address concerns – at the insistence of area residents who see the good sense of obliterating municipal borders for the sake of improved public safety.

If not, regionalization in Luzerne County will remain a half-hearted effort, consisting mostly of the occasional sharing of dump trucks and other road equipment.

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