Joint police efforts are often seen in Dauphin County. Detectives from various departments provide services across township, city, and borough lines. Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said those relationships are unique to this area.
"We get along municipality to municipality," he said.
Marsico mentioned that other DA’s discuss feuds or rivalries between police departments in other counties. Dauphin County Commissioner Mike Pries and Marsico led the first Dauphin County Regional Police Committee meeting Tuesday morning.
Inside a Best Western conference room, representatives from most of the 17 police departments, county leadership, and economic development, formed a body that would decide upon Dauphin County’s law enforcement future.
At its core, the idea to regionalize aims to improve public safety by combining manpower and municipal money.
"Crime knows no boundaries,” said Marsico. “[Crime is] going to go across municipal lines."
Swatara Township Police Chief and President of the Dauphin County Chiefs of Police Association, Jason Umberger, endorsed the movement to conduct a study that would examine if a regional police approach would benefit the county.
He listened intently to police force experts like Ron Stern and Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel. After hearing a few hours of success stories, Chief Umberger said he was glad to hear there was no lack of service.
"That's exciting,” he said. “I mean, that's why I got into law enforcement...to provide the best possible services to citizens."
There was a little blowback from some of the officers when facts and figures were being discussed. The problem lies within each respective police department recording data their respective way. A “call for service” may be reported different in Harrisburg City than in Halifax or Paxtang to Lower Paxton Township. The same could be said for budgets and how insurance benefits are paid out to officers and department employees.
The need for a comprehensive study is a daunting task according to Chief Umberger. He said there is no real way of knowing anything at this point. Many speculate hurdles such as management or power structure, how foot patrols would be divvied up, or how elected officials would react to a regional approach.
"I'm confident that we can really work through most of these issues,” said Marsico. “And, come up with a good plan for Dauphin County."
Umberger said there may be officers that are against the idea. But, he believed a regional approach would open up more job opportunities in various areas than staying with one police department for a career.
"If you have effective police leadership, these are all things that are certainly...aren't insurmountable," he said.
Information that was made available at the meeting included a basic review of the 12 full-time and five part-time police departments. It was founded that full-time police department accounted for 40 percent of their respective municipal budgets, 12 percent for part-time.
Of Dauphin County’s 40 municipalities, 18 are covered by State Police, which eat up state resources to police on a local level.
Bentzel discussed how he acts as a “business manager” for NYCRPD and his budget is “down to the thumbtack” when it comes to recording expenses. He explained a regional approach would be more efficient for purchasing equipment, uniforms, vehicles, and managing salaries.
"We can, I think get more bang for the taxpayer buck as well as improve public safety," said Marsico.
The study could be conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum (P.E.R.F.), free to the county through a state grant. Stern recommended the county inquire about a national agency given the scope of the study.
Commissioner Pries said even the agency has not been determined as of yet, but would like to have an agency in place by the next meeting this fall. He said the study could take up to a year to complete and have the data available for public discussion.
Many believe the study could recommend a number of options including one countywide police force or multiple regional forces (i.e. Northern Dauphin County Police Force).
To sum up the feelings of most on the committee would be, cautiously optimistic. Many are eager to see what insight the study could bring.
"The concept can work, it's demonstrated to work,” said Umberger. “Whether or not it's going to work in Dauphin County, and to what extent it will work, that remains to be seen."