Police chief to New Freedom: 'Give us a chance'

After about 25 minutes of discussion revolving around New Freedom's desire to merge Southern Regional Police with another police department, Chief Jim Boddington made a proposal. 

"How about this — give us a chance," he said.

New Freedom officials announced in January that the borough would leave the department by the end of 2018. Borough council members have maintained that the issue with the department is the future financial stability and size of the department.

The New Freedom Borough Council sent a letter to the police commission requesting that they either look into merging with another police department or create a committee to seek other municipalities to join the department. The commission is made up of officials from each of the four boroughs covered full time by the department: Shrewsbury, Glen Rock, New Freedom and Stewartstown.

New Freedom residents turned out in a big way for the borough council meeting to support the Southern Regional Police Department, Tuesday, February 13, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

'Give us a chance': Shrewsbury and Stewartstown have committed to five years with the police department, and Glen Rock has committed to three more years with the department. 

The commitment comes less than a year after the department implemented a new funding formula called Police Protection Units, or PPUs. The formula allows municipalities to purchase services hours, which Boddington would then allocate appropriately. All of the full-member municipalities agreed to remain with the department through the end of 2018 to see how the new formula worked out.

Boddington asked Bruce Merrill, New Freedom councilman and member of the police commission, to give the department four more years, with the understanding that the department will actively pursue possibilities of a merger.

“I will be glad to sit down with any other regional police department chief-to-chief and bring in the sergeants, the shop stewards and everyone together — let the cops sit down and let us work out the bugs," he said. 

Members of the Southern Regional Police Commission discuss New Freedom's suggestion to merge with another police department. Christopher Dornblaser photo.

Under New Freedom's recommendation, there is a stipulation that the department has  merger talks finalized by April 2019. Boddington said that a few years ago he had gotten together with some other police chiefs regarding merging departments, but at the time it did not work out. 

“If we can hold this together, ... and be stabilized ... I will gladly spearhead to do this again with the chiefs, with the understanding that it’s gotta work, you can’t force us and say we must merge in two years — it may not work,” he said.

Boddington asked the borough not to put time limits "on a demand."

"Just talk and ask, and I'd be more than willing to set it up for you," he said.

Sgt. Daniel Teague addressed Merrill during the meeting as well, and he said it would be a good idea to get the officers involved in discussions because they have not been included yet.

Southern Regional Police Chief James Boddington

“We are open to that type of stuff, (but) to say it’s a good thing, we don’t know that yet,” he said.

Teague also mentioned that when Stewartstown joined the department in 2014, the process took a few years.

"So to do it right, it's going to take quite some time," he said. 

Merrill said the dates were included in their recommendation to have people continue  to work toward a merger or expansion.

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Response to letter: At the start of the meeting, Glen Rock Mayor John Trout, who is chairman of the commission, read a letter from the Glen Rock Borough Council in response to New Freedom's suggestion. The council committed to three more years and asked the commission to "aggressively campaign" to other municipalities for service.

The New Freedom letter was written after Shrewsbury's last borough council meeting, so members of that council have not yet responded. Still, one member made up his mind.

“I will not speak for the entire council, and in no way should I, but I can tell you right and flat out that I do not intend to recommend this in any way," Buck Buchanan, council president for Shrewsbury, said during Wednesday's meeting. 

Buchanan said he thinks not pursuing New Freedom's recommendations is in the best interest of Shrewsbury citizens.

Merrill said that last year Northern York County Regional Police Chief Mark Bentzel gave a presentation about a possible merger to members of the commission. He said some of the commission members seemed interested in the idea, but there haven't been any talks about it since.

Stewartstown Mayor Robert Herzberger said the issue was that New Freedom went from studying the idea of a merger to "we have to do it."

Herzberger, a member of the commission, also said that Stewartstown officials didn't think having police coverage coming from places such as Dover or Spring Grove was in the best interest of the borough.

New Freedom council members said during the last meeting that they were looking into joining Southwestern Regional Police or Northern Regional Police.

"New Freedom just needs to look at the police department as it stands and decide whether or not they want to be a member of it," Herzberger said.

After the meeting, Merrill wasn't sold on the other borough officials' statements. 

"I really haven't heard anything that explains why we're not moving forward with other communities," he said. 

Expanding: South Eastern School District Superintendent Jeffrey Hughes submitted a letter of interest to the commission seeking police patrols and walk-throughs for the district for the remainder of the school year. He wrote that the district also is interested in having a school resource officer for the following school year.

The council approved submitting a memorandum of understanding and a contract to the district, which, once signed by the district's solicitor, will give them police services through the end of the school year. An additional contract, one regarding a school resource officer, would be signed later.

The department currently provides police services for Southern York County schools but not South Eastern.

Trout and Boddington have  sent letters to six surrounding municipalities in an attempt to expand police services. The two sent letters to Springfield, East Hopewell, North Hopewell, Hopewell, Shrewsbury and Codorus townships. Boddington said the department has not heard back from the municipalities. 

Merrill said that getting communities to join the department is harder than merging with an existing department. 

“You can go out and you can try to market to communities that don’t have police services and give them the opportunity — that over 20 years have never bought them —  or you could merge with folks who already have police services," he said. "And I believe that it's the right way to go.”

New Freedom: Boddington recommended to Merrill that the New Freedom Borough Council find a new location for the next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, March 12, at the borough building at 49 E. High St.

The last meeting had about 200 people there in support of the police department, making it standing-room only. 

Merrill said after the meeting that he would leave that decision up to the council. Reached Friday, March 9, New Freedom councilman Larry O'Brien said the next meeting will still be held at the borough building.

The New Freedom Community Center, he said, is booked.

Merrill said after Wednesday's meeting that he will pass along Boddington's proposal to the council, and that the council will continue talking about police services.

"I can tell you we will be discussing it more," he said.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.