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Increased foot patrols test Harrisburg police force - abc27 WHTM

Increased foot patrols test Harrisburg police force

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

No doubt Harrisburg police have a tough job—the toughest. Now, with less help on the force, the remaining officers must pick up the slack.

As officers began to patrol the Midtown and Allison Hill neighborhoods Tuesday night, the department's new "aggressive" foot patrol operation could test its resources.

Within the past three years, 40 officers have left the Harrisburg Bureau of Police. In 2010, Police Chief Pierre Ritter said the force was 171 strong. Now, there are 131 on the roster.

Many factors may play into why, including retirement. However, Mayor Linda Thompson believes being a broke city beats all other reasons.

"Cops understand that if the city goes into bankruptcy, judges across the country have gone after pensions," she said.

It's no secret Harrisburg finances continue to wobble. The future remains uncertain, albeit signs of progress have been reported with the city's Act 47 Recovery Plan.

One thing remains firm: Thompson's stance on the city residency requirement.

"Citizens that I talk to want to know that Officer Friendly lives next door," she said. "I have always believed directors who shape policy are living and breathing where they work."

Thompson explained it was an idea she inherited from former Mayor Stephen Reed. In 2002, Reed implanted the residency requirement as a part of his Harrisburg renaissance philosophy.

The requirement has caused some friction between candidates in this year's mayoral race; so much so that Thompson brought the race into her response when asked if the requirement should be loosened.

"This whole notion of, candidates who are in this race, if they were to become the mayor ... wipe the administration that exists and bring all their new people would be disastrous ... catastrophic," she said.

Other candidates have argued it would be best to broaden the requirement so that city employees could live just outside the city or eliminate the mandate altogether. Perhaps, voters will have the final say come the May 22 primary.

In the meantime, officers at times must work double-duty to cover shifts and respond to calls. Yet, like any budget, there is a balance between paying for overtime and not being able to afford the extra hours.

At times, Thompson has asked Dauphin County for funds and the county had offered gaming money to help pay for officer's work.

Although, it obviously does cost money to keep a plentiful force, Thompson said public safety is priceless.

"I wish I had a magic wand in order to replace 30 officers, but in the meantime ... we take what we got and we reorganize that complement to make it work," Thompson said, "and that is precisely what Chief Ritter has done."

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