Residents, many of whom spoke against cuts to the Upper Perk Police force at Monday night’s Upper Perk Police Commission meeting, said they won’t feel safe now that the department will be losing officers under the new commission budget for 2013.
"I feel that the police cuts are ridiculous," said Dakota Greenige of East Greenville. "The valley is getting a lot more populated and crime is going up. When we lose police officers because the boroughs can’t pay them it isn’t good when there are more people moving in."
"It isn’t going to make me feel any better about being out at night," said Shelly Brey of Pennsburg, noting she regularly walks around the borough for exercise.
A Pennsburg woman, who asked not to be identified, said her family has been affected by drugs and had only good things to say about the work of the Upper Perk Police.
"I personally know how hard Upper Perk Police have worked to get the drugs out of this town. To cut the police force is just going to bring this town ten steps back," she said.
The police commission voted Monday to lay off two full-time officers and one part-time officer, immediately cutting the Upper Perk Police District to five full-time officers, one part-timer and Chief of Police Michael Devlin.
Upper Perk Police, via their Facebook page, solicited community support and asked residents of the two boroughs to attend borough council meetings to voice their concerns.
"The officers are disappointed the layoffs came this quickly," said Det. Sgt. F. Robert Seville on behalf of the department. "The officers attempted every possible solution to avoid layoffs and it didn’t work."
Officials said a tentative contract agreement for Upper Perk Police was approved at September’s police commission meeting but Pennsburg representatives, after seeking legal counsel, wanted to alter it.
Pennsburg officials, according to Commission Chairman and East Greenville Mayor Ryan Sloyer, wanted to change the contract’s layoff clause and add an end date. They also wanted to change a section sending money back to the officers, should an officer voluntarily leave the job, and instead give that money back to the contributing boroughs.
Under the current agreement, Pennsburg pays 55 percent of the police commission budget and East Greenville pays 45 percent.
The changes to the tentative contract were rejected by Upper Perk Police and representatives from the Fraternal Order of Police. With that rejection, the contract reverted back to the terms of the current agreement, which didn’t include more than $50,000 in concessions from Upper Perk Police. Police were ready to concede a 4 percent pay increase and contribute 3 percent to their pension plan, among other concessions.
The ensuing cuts in police staffing were necessitated by the reigning contract and updated budget, said Police Commission Vice Chairman John Lear, president of Pennsburg Borough Council.
"It was an unfortunate decision and one we didn’t take lightly," Lear said Tuesday. "We were facing half a mill tax increase for police and this was the only way we saw to solve that. "This is the amount we had to spend and that’s the amount of reduction we ended up with. We want police in Pennsburg; we just want the police we can afford right now because of the economy.
"The Pennsburg Borough Council representatives standardly ask the Pennsburg solicitor to review all agreements," said Lear of the changes to the proposed contract. "He recommended some small changes, like making sure the layoff provision ended, along with the rest of the agreement. We did not think any of the changes were outside of the intent of the agreement, but were more like crossing t’s and dotting i’s. We were surprised that instead of discussing their concerns, the officers outright rejected the entire agreement over these small changes."
The votes for the budget and the reduction in force were both unanimous at Monday’s police commission meeting.
Sloyer said Tuesday he and fellow East Greenville representatives Tim Huff and Andrew Rock didn’t agree with the reduction in force but voted yes to keep the regional police force intact.
"We voted yes for that reason and for that reason alone," Sloyer said, stressing the concessions made by Upper Perk Police. He went on to say Pennsburg was the "driving force" behind the reduction in police and that that borough’s residents need a "wake-up call."
Sloyer said in a written statement Monday, "East Greenville does not believe the layoff of two officers is in the best interest of the safety and well-being of the residents in East Greenville Borough. With the tentative agreement the commission was able to maintain the current financial allocations for 2013 and the current complement of officers, minus a part-time position. Without that agreement, however, difficult decisions have to be made."
Sloyer noted state police will be covering the gaps in Upper Perk’s coverage, which could translate into slower response times, especially for "nuisance" crime calls.
"State police are stretched thin," he said. "They won’t enforce local ordinances. Residents will experience a longer wait time than they experience with local police. If residents are concerned they need to attend borough meetings."
He went on to say that despite community support, it would be difficult to get a full complement of officers back for Upper Perk Police.
"We are into December and budgets are being passed. The chances of these guys of being recalled are slim," he conceded.
East Greenville and Pennsburg councils expect to pass their 2013 budgets, including their contributions to Upper Perk Police, at their Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 meetings, respectively.