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Feb. 15 police regionalization discussion by borough is a chance for public to ask questions

Tonight is an opportunity for Middletown residents to learn more about ongoing discussions being led by Council President Ben Kapenstein and Mayor James H. Curry III regarding the future of policing in the borough.

It’s also a chance for residents to have their say regarding what they think should happen.

The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of Borough Hall.

“The purpose of the meeting is to set expectations for what residents can expect throughout the process,” Kapenstein said in an emailed statement to the Press And Journal, referring to the evaluation now underway regarding whether the borough should continue with its police force as is, or enter into some kind of alternative joint policing arrangement that would most likely involve Lower Swatara Township.

“We will attempt to lay the foundation of what a police shared services model might look like and how it could benefit Middletown,” Kapenstein said.

Kapenstein will open the meeting with a “quick” PowerPoint presentation going over the basics of what will be discussed. 

Beyond that, a “good portion” of the meeting will be devoted to hearing from residents, he said. 

“One of my goals of the meeting is to hear from residents regarding their comments, questions, or concerns about the issue,” he said. 

Curry will also be at the meeting and available to answer questions. The mayor deferred to Kapenstein in providing comment for this article.

Since December, Curry and Kapenstein have been holding meetings with representatives of Lower Swatara to discuss whether the township is interested in pursuing some kind of joint policing arrangement with the borough.

The “shared services model” Kapenstein referred to could take the form of the borough and the township entering into a contract for the providing of police services. Alternatively, the model could also take the form of Middletown and Lower Swatara creating a new regional police force.

Swatara Township Police Chief Jason Umberger was at the most recent meeting that was held in Borough Hall on Jan. 12. 

Swatara currently provides police services in neighboring Paxtang Borough under a contractual arrangement between the two municipalities.

Swatara and Lower Swatara have also had past discussions regarding a police shared services arrangement.

Tonight’s meeting could be moved to the larger MCSO building downstairs if there’s a big crowd, Kapenstein said. However, the opening PowerPoint presentation will have to be done in council chambers, he said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:20

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Forced prostitution case in danger of being dismissed

Shearer RachelRachel ShearerThe case against a woman who is accused of kidnapping a Londonderry Township woman and helping to force her into prostitution against her will is in danger of being thrown out.

The victim in the case against Rachel Shearer, 21, of Old Forge in Lackawanna County, did not show up for a preliminary hearing held before District Judge David Judy on Feb. 9 to determine if Shearer should be bound over on the charges to county court.

The prosecutor bringing the charges against Shearer said that the victim — identified only by her initials in court papers — had been in rehabilitation and had just gotten out two days before the hearing. Beyond that, neither the prosecutor nor state police could account for the whereabouts of the victim to Judy’s satisfaction.

The victim’s mother, who had first alerted state police that her daughter was missing, also was not at the hearing.

Judy said he would grant a continuance until early March, but if the victim does not show up then Judy said he will dismiss the charges against Shearer. He also told the prosecutor to tell the victim that she will be held in contempt of court, if she does not show up at the next scheduled hearing.

Shearer, who was at the hearing wearing Dauphin County Prison coveralls, has been in the county jail since Oct. 27, 2016, when she was arrested and charged with kidnapping to facilitate a felony, conspiracy kidnapping for ransom, conspiracy to commit kidnapping to facilitate a felony, two counts of conspiracy to commit involuntary servitude, one count of human trafficking, two counts of conspiracy to promote prostitution, and two counts of conspiracy unlawful restraint. 

Shearer is being held on $200,000 bail.

According to arrest papers filed by state police, Shearer in late May 2016 drove the victim to what the victim thought would be a weekend getaway in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Instead, the victim awoke to find herself in a “dope house” in Knoxville, Tenn., where people were coming in and out buying illegal drugs. Shearer and a man then allegedly took the victim to Myrtle Beach, where she was forced into prostitution. 

They then took the woman back to the dope house in Knoxville, where she was again forced to have sex for money with up to six men a day, according to the arrest papers.

After nearly three weeks Shearer started driving the victim back from Knoxville to Pennsylvania. The victim escaped from Shearer at a gas station off of Interstate 81 in Schuylkill County, where the victim was picked up by her mother and taken straight to state police, according to police.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:09

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Police: Middletown man on 18th birthday involved in hit-and-run, had Sig Sauer under front seat

A hit-and-run accident resulted in Middletown police pulling over a driver who had a Sig Sauer handgun under front seat, with 11 rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber, but no permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Raymond Vogt of Middletown faces charges of DUI and carrying firearms without a license.

Borough police say that shortly after 9:30 p.m. Saturday Feb. 4, a Dodge Ram pick-up truck driven by Vogt — who just turned 18 years old the same day, according to police records — struck and broke off the driver’s side mirror of a GMC Sierra truck that was legally parked in the 300 block of Adelia Street.

Vogt fled the scene, but later the same night drove past police and witnesses to the hit-and-run as a police officer was finishing up his report on the incident. 

The police officer took chase, and after pulling Vogt over detected an odor of alcohol and also discovered a Sig Sauer handgun under the driver’s side front seat, with 11 rounds in the magazine and one round in the chamber, according to police. 

Police said Vogt did not have a permit to conceal the weapon. 

Police have not been able to determine who owns the handgun, although the weapon has not been reported as stolen.

Vogt, of the first block of Rupp Street, was arraigned on Feb. 6 before District Judge Sonya McKnight and charged with carrying firearms without a license, DUI, causing damage to an unattended vehicle, and careless driving. He was released after posting $10,000 bail.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 9 before District Judge David Judy.

Police said the case is still under investigation and that more charges might be filed.

Lower Swatara Township assisted Middletown police at the scene.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:07

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Lie detector tests out the door for promoting police officers

Moving forward with changes to Middletown’s Civil Service Commission — including doing away with lie-detector tests in considering promotion of police officers — was approved by borough council on Feb. 7.

The action directs the borough solicitor to draw up revisions to commission rules and regulations for council to consider approving at a future meeting. The hope is that the revisions will be ready for council’s next meeting on Feb. 21, Borough Manager Ken Klinepeter told the Press And Journal.

The commission oversees the process of determining the eligibility of candidates who want to become Middletown police officers. The commission also oversees the process of testing officers already on the force for promotion.

The commission consists of three borough residents who are appointed to the body by council.

Klinepeter said that removing the polygraph requirement to promote existing officers is “the main issue” prompting the changes to the commission rules and regulations.

Council voted to move forward with making the changes following a nearly two-hour-long closed door meeting that was held at the end of council’s Feb. 7 public agenda. Action related to the commission was not on the agenda.

Council after the closed-door session also voted to approve a two-day suspension of Detective Mark Hovan, another matter that was not listed on the agenda for action.

 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:04

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Neighborhood watch group crime meeting is this week

Middletown residents interested in forming one or more neighborhood groups to address crime and other issues are encouraged to attend a meeting that will be held starting at 7 p.m. Thursday Feb. 16 at the Middletown Area Historical Society museum at 29 E. Main St.

The meeting is an outgrowth of a series of three public meetings focusing on crime led by borough police working with Councilor Dawn Knull.

Now, the meetings have evolved to where residents looking to form one or more neighborhood groups are in the driver’s seat, said Jenny Miller, a trustee of the historical society who will help to preside over Thursday’s session.

While often billed as “crime watch” groups, the model is really more of a group that focuses on broader “quality of life” issues that impact the overall health and well-being of a neighborhood, Miller said.

For example, unattended to litter and trash and streetlights that don’t work are the kinds of things that can create an environment conducive to crime.

Plans are underway to form at least one such quality-of-life neighborhood group in Middletown, and the hope is that other such groups can be formed elsewhere throughout the borough, Miller said.

— Dan Miller

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 09:53

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