Our View: Everyone’s going to have to pay fair share for state police protection

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People are barricading their doors before they go to sleep — or try to go to sleep.

Some are barely sleeping at all, more interested in keeping an eye or ear out for an elusive burglar who seems to strike at the most opportune time.

This is the predicament some folks are now facing in the sleepy village of Milnesville in Hazle Township.

And we believe it crystallizes some points in a long-running debate revived again last week by Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal for municipalities without a police force to start paying something toward coverage by state police.

Hazle Township, population roughly 9,500, is one of the larger municipalities without its own force.

That leaves troopers as the only form of protection in the sprawling township which surrounds the city of Hazleton.

We know they are doing all they can to catch the burglar, who has struck about 10 times in the last few weeks.

They are heavily patrolling the area and have issued information to make residents aware of what’s happening. (The Milnesville Marauder likes to strike when no one is home, it seems, and usually takes only food from the fridge.)

But no matter how much state police do, they simply cannot guard every street corner and alley every hour of the day.

So some residents have wondered if Hazle Township would be safer with its own police force.

We don’t seek to answer that question in this space today.

However, we must point out the days of state police being responsible for massive portions of the commonwealth at basically no charge is becoming more and more impractical.

According to a 2016-18 state police strategic plan recently cited by the Delaware County Daily Times, troopers provide full- or part-time coverage to about 66 percent of the state’s municipalities, 82 percent of its total land area and slightly more than a quarter of Pennsylvania’s population or more than 3 million people.

A lot of ground to cover for an agency who counts about 4,500 troopers among its ranks.

Wolf’s proposed sliding scale for coverage — a per-person fee of $8 for municipalities with a population up to 2,000 to $166 per individual for towns of 20,000 or more — has no chance to pass the Legislature, according to state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York. Saylor is proposing an alternative where only municipalities of 10,000 or more would pay for protection, the Morning Call of Allentown reported.

Making the matter even more pressing is that the cost to fund state police, over $1 billion annually, relies heavily on driver-related fees that form the state’s Motor License Fund.

That money is supposed to go to road and bridge repairs, but Harrisburg’s decision-makers have used it over and over again to fund trooper-related protection.

However, by 2027, no more than $500 million can come out of the Motor License Fund to fund state police, according to a rule put in place several years ago.

That means hundreds of millions of dollars are going to have to be derived from some other source within the next decade.

As we get closer to that point, we would imagine lawmakers will become more determined to establish some sort of fee, which would both generate revenue and force some municipalities to establish their own forces and thereby lessen the load on troopers.

Either way, it seems clear the current way of providing police protection is coming to an end.

We would advise places such as Hazle Township to start preparing for that reality sooner rather than later.

— Times Leader

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