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Community policing can build relationships that foster trust, panelists say

Martin UmbergerWEBPress And Journal Staff Photo by Eric Wise -- Robert Martin, Susquehanna Township’s public safety director, and Jason Umberger, police chief in Swatara Township, discuss community policing during a panel held at Penn State Harrisburg on Sept. 13.


Police need to build strong relationships with the communities they serve in order to develop a mutual trust and understanding, panelists agreed during a Sept. 13 discussion at Penn State Harrisburg. 

In Susquehanna Township, police responded to about 15,000 calls this year, said Robert Martin, the township’s public safety director. When this number is multiplied by the police departments throughout the nation, police have millions of interactions with the public, and yet they are scrutinized based on only a few. 

Many members of the public consume news and gain familiarity with the names of those killed by police in recent years, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and Walter Scott, said Jennifer Gibbs of Penn State. 

Moderator Shaun Gabbidon, distinguished professor or criminal justice at Penn State, said finding the exact number of police shootings per year has proven difficult. The FBI has placed the number at about 400 per year, while media investigations have shown 945 to 1,100 per year. Local police have not been given an effective way to report officer involved shootings to improve accountability for police nationwide.

These heavily publicized police shootings, especially when scrutinized by the media without an understanding of the entire incident and circumstances, fueled a misconception that “racial misconduct is the rule,” said Jason Umberger, police chief in Swatara Township. “It lit a fire, especially in minority communities,” he said.

“Violence and hateful rhetoric against police is at an all-time high,” he said. 

Martin began his remarks by reminding the audience that law enforcement officers are killed in the line of duty often, about one every 61 hours. 

The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported 123 deaths in the line of duty during 2015, with 41 deaths from shootings. Comparing year-to-date law enforcement fatalities through Sept. 15 of both years, 83 officers died in 2016, two fewer than the same period in 2015. From 2015, the other top causes of officers’ deaths include 34 killed in auto crashes, 22 from job-related illnesses and 10 struck by a vehicle. The same source reports that about 200 officers died in line of duty from 1967 to 1982, which was the worst period for police deaths except for the period of Prohibition.

Relationships key

Umberger and Martin agreed that building relationships and trust are key to maintaining a strong relationship with residents of the communities they serve. 

“Most times we are called to have contact with people are unfortunate events,” Martin said. Instead, he wants officers “out of the car, interacting with the public in positive situations,” he said. 

“One of the worst inventions and one of the best inventions is the climate controlled police car,” he said. This began when more people had moved to the suburbs from the cities. “Foot patrol was no longer conducive,” he said. However, using cars to cover a larger area meant that officers are “not on foot having personal contact.” 

“The best policing takes place when the officer is out of the car, not in the car,” he said.

This emphasis on community policing got a boost in the 1990s, thanks to the support of President Bill Clinton, Martin said.

Umburger said community policing relies on using officers nondirected time for positive interactions. He said he’s encouraged by initiatives his officers take, including stopping at schools and having lunch with students. 

Swatara Townnship police spent about 82 percent of their shifts with directed time, which is the time they are responding to calls, Umburger said. In order to increase his officers available time for an ideal amount of community policing, they should raise that 18 percent in nondirected time to about 45 percent. However, based on Swatara Township Police’s current call volume, they would need 20 new officers to make that happen. 

An emphasis on making the best use of nondirected time for community policing is a topic Umberger said he uses in officer performance reviews to provide encouragement. 

Research to back it up?

Jonathan Lee, a Penn State professor and consultant to local police departments, cited opinion polls, specific to Pennsylvania, that have shown that many people are generally supportive of the police, with more than 80 percent of respondents having confidence in the police. The support is particularly strong from white people, but is not universal, said Lee, who was a panelist.

“Black respondents have low confidence in the police,” Lee said. 

Those who interacted with police, as a victim of crime or recipient of a traffic ticket, also show lower confidence than the study as a whole, Lee said. 

Lee said a study of Penn State students also examined other variables that affect perceptions, including asking whether respondents knew an officer by his or her first name or if they feel comfortable speaking with them. When respondents had positive reactions — and a closer “social distance” — the difference in confidence level in the police was eliminated between black and white respondents. Lee said he hopes to expand the study to include Swatara Township and Harrisburg residents, and may eventually expand it to include all of Dauphin County.

Clues from history

In contrast, following the killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, a national Gallup poll showed a higher distrust of police in the black community. At the time, both President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged in public comments that there is a history of tension between police and the black community in many parts of the nation.

Blacks have historic reasons for being suspicious of police, Gabbidon said. 

“The police have always been a part of black people’s lives,” he said. He referenced a history of issues black people in America have had with the police since the abolition of slavery.

Umberger stressed the role of police is to remain unbiased. 

“Police swear an oath to the law without regard to race or social standing,” he said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 15:50

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Tax amnesty guidelines announced by state

The state Department of Revenue has announced guidelines for a state tax amnesty program adopted by the General Assembly as part of Act 84 of 2016, Rep. Ron Marsico, R-Lower Paxton, announced recently.

The program, which offers incentives to Pennsylvanians to settle their delinquent tax accounts, is expected to generate as much as $150 million in revenue for the commonwealth. The program does not “forgive” taxes owed but instead waives penalties, collection and lien fees, and half of the interest owed.

All taxes owed to the commonwealth administered by the Department of Revenue are eligible for the program. The delinquent taxes must have been owed as of Dec. 31, 2015. Any unpaid taxes, penalties and interest resulting from periods after Dec. 31, 2015, are not eligible for the program.

To participate, taxpayers must file an online amnesty return, file all delinquent tax returns and make the required payment within the amnesty. They must also ensure any unpaid taxes or unfiled returns not eligible for the program (after Dec. 31, 2015) are submitted.
The amnesty period runs from April 21, 2017, to June 19, 2017. More information is available at

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 15:44

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63rd annual Halloween Parade will be held Oct. 17

KidsHalloweenWEBPress And Journal File Photo -- Youngsters take part in last year’s Halloween Parade in downtown Middletown.


The Kiwanis Club of Middletown’s 63nd annual Halloween Parade for 2016 will be held on Monday, Oct. 17, with the rain date of Tuesday, Oct. 18. 

The parade will start forming at 6:15 p.m. The bands and performing groups will assemble at Fink Elementary School. All fire and emergency equipment needs to enter Hoffer Park from Mill Street, where they will line up. Floats will line up on both sides of Mill Street from the Grubb Street Bridge to Hoffer Park. 

Walking participants will form into categories between East Emaus and Mill streets on both sides of Race Street. Radio stations will line up between East Emaus and Mill Streets on the Hoffer Park side of Race Street as space allows. There will be no vehicle parking allowed in Hoffer Park. Race Street at Emaus, going south, will be closed to traffic at 6 p.m. 

At 7 p.m., the parade route will proceed north on Race Street, left onto Water Street heading west, then left onto Pine Street heading south. The parade will officially begin at the intersection of Race and Conewago streets, where the bands and performing groups will be forming into the parade. 

The parade will disperse at Brown Street. The judges’ stand will be set up on the lower end of Pine Street behind the M&T Drive-Thru. 

Registration information and forms are available only online at Registration will close at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Oct. 3. Advance registration is required to be part of the parade; however, prizes are awarded only to those who are allowed to use the Competition Registration Form. There is a sheet of Safety Concerns and Policies participants must sign electronically and send back with the registration to receive a parade permit number. 

Kiwanis has contracted one “Exclusive Merchandise Vendor” to sell merchandise and novelties from a limited number of carts. Vendor carts will have special large signs provided by Kiwanis permitting them to sell and visibly displayed on the carts. The public is asked to not purchase from those not having official Kiwanis signs. 

Food concession permits are only available for borough nonprofit groups at no charge when requested at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

Questions may be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 15:30

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‘He’s a great entertainer’

philbennett5webPress And Journal Photo by Dan Miller -- Middletown's Phil Bennett will perform Sept. 24 at The Event Place with a portion of ticket sales going to the Elks Theatre.


Phil Bennett has already given Middletown one unforgettable moment.

And starting with Saturday night, Sept. 24, he hopes to give the town many more.

If you go

The “A Night to Remember” concert by Phil Bennett and the Stevenson Twins will be Saturday, Sept. 24, at The Event Place at 11 S. Union St. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 and a portion of the proceeds will go toward reopening the Elks Theatre. For information or for tickets, call 717-902-9005 or 717-421-9239 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 September 2016 14:40

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Preventing an outbreak

USDA2Press And Journal Photos by Dan Miller -- Kyle Van Why throws out food pellets to lure the ducks out of the water and onto the boat launch, so he can trap them using a portable net launcher.



Preventing another bird flu outbreak that could cost the poultry industry in Pennsylvania jobs and millions of dollars starts in places such as the Fish Commission boat launch at the end of South Union Street in Middletown.

Get there early enough, and you might catch Kyle Van Why, a wildlife disease biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and his big net.

Van Why uses the net to catch ducks, which he swabs for samples to send to a lab for testing to see if the birds have influenza, and if so, what strain. Van Why then releases the ducks back into the Swatara Creek habitat from whence they came.

VanWhy5Kyle Van Why gets a sample from the mouth of one of the ducks. He then takes the sample to a lab to be tested for bird flu. The duck is set free shortly after Van Why draws the sample.



The boat launch in Middletown is among a number of locations throughout the Delaware and Susquehanna River watersheds that Van Why was visiting on a regular basis this summer as part of a broader effort by the USDA to stay on top of bird influenza in Pennsylvania.

Ducks and geese are natural carriers of influenza, Van Why says. Typically about one in 10 of these birds carry influenza. If that percentage starts going up sharply, or if the lab testing uncovers new and more virulent strains of the influenza,  these are the red flags that alert the USDA to a bigger problem.

The concern is not over people getting sick, as bird influenza is “not a human communicable disease,” said Van Why, who has a master’s degree in wildlife management from Louisiana State University. He got his bachelor’s degree in the same field from California University of Pennsylvania.

But if bird flu gets into poultry houses and spreads, it could have devastating effects upon an industry worth $13 billion in Pennsylvania, according to an estimate from state Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.

USDA used to only sample birds on a statewide basis, but in the past two years the agency has drilled down to doing sampling throughout specific watersheds, Van Why said.

The monitoring program seems to be working, at least in Pennsylvania, as “no highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses have been detected in Pennsylvania since the 1983-84 outbreak,” according to information posted on the state Agriculture Department website.

The 1983-84 outbreak killed 17 million birds and cost the poultry industry in Pennsylvania about $65 million, according to estimates that have been provided by the state.

In 2015, a bird flu outbreak in Minnesota swept through more than 100 chicken and turkey farms in just one county.

“Imagine all those facilities having to shut down for six months,” Van Why said. “That would devastate not only the county but portions of the state.”

If you want to trap ducks, you go to a place where water fowl congregate naturally, which is why the Middletown boat launch was picked as a site.

There are a lot of wild ducks here, but people also introduce domestic ducks into the area.
That’s not really a good idea, because the wild ducks can transit disease to the domestic ducks, Van Why said.

But the domestic ducks are more likely to come up to humans to be fed, and they bring the wild ducks with them. That makes Van Why’s job of trapping the birds easier.

“I don’t have to spend the time pre-baiting and coming out every day to teach them to come to food,” he said.

Van Why works to get the birds close enough so that he can shoot a 30-by-40 net over them. The net gets launched into the air by firing a rifle blank that sounds like a car back-firing.

It’s best to shoot the net out over the pavement leading up from the boat launch. If the net is shot out over water, it’s too easy for the birds to swim out from under, Van Why said.

“I can come here, set the net up, shoot it and catch 15 to 30 birds in a morning and be done with my quota for a certain area,” Van Why said. “Then I can go to another area and do the same thing. Ten mornings in a row I do that 10 times, I’ve just caught 200 birds.”

Van Why started trapping ducks at the boat launch in July, shortly after he got approval from the borough since the land is publicly owned. Van Why continued coming back here to trap throughout August. He also plans to return to do some more trapping in the fall and winter.

Lab results from the ducks trapped and released at the boat launch haven’t raised any red flags so far.

A “low percentage” of the birds have influenza, as Van Why expected to find.

“So far we have found the strains we expected in water fowl, which is good,” he said.

USDA also works to assist municipalities and residents in cases where the water fowl population has gotten out of control in a certain area. That has not been the case at the boat launch in Middletown.

“They (borough officials) are pretty happy with what they have here,” Van Why said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a problem. If you are on the river there are not a lot of birds. There might be 50 here — that’s not a huge amount. When you walk up to 200 or 300, then it becomes a problem” because the more birds, the more feces that is spread everywhere.

Besides being a nuisance, the feces can contain bird influenza that people will pick up and spread by stepping on it in their shoes.

“If you walk through the feces here and go back to your farm and walk through your turkey barn and not practice biosecurity, you could be spreading disease,” Van Why added.


USDA Wildlife Disease Biologist Kyle Van Why sets a duck free near the boat launch in Middletown after collecting samples to be tested for avian influenza.


To learn more about bird flu in Pennsylvania, go to the home page of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture  - - and click "avian influenza"

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2016 15:50

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