locally owned since 1854

In 2017, residents spoke out vs. Middletown police deal with Lower Swatara

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 7/24/19

Mayor James H. Curry III and then-Council President Ben Kapenstein launched the initiative to talk to Lower Swatara Township about contracting out police services in Middletown in early 2017.

Then …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

In 2017, residents spoke out vs. Middletown police deal with Lower Swatara

Posted

Mayor James H. Curry III and then-Council President Ben Kapenstein launched the initiative to talk to Lower Swatara Township about contracting out police services in Middletown in early 2017.

Then — as now — the borough did not have a permanent police chief. John Bey had resigned at the end of December 2016. Curry in January 2017 tapped a retired New York City detective — George Mouchette — to run the department, but on an interim basis.

______________________________________________________

 

READ MORE: Middletown Police Department disbanding? Mayor calls union statement 'ill-timed and misinformed'

______________________________________________________

 

In August 2017 — months after the talks between Middletown and Lower Swatara ended with no resolution — council with Curry’s backing made Mouchette permanent chief.

But a year later Mouchette was charged with sexual assault. He is suspended without pay — the status Mouchette continues to hold as his case in Dauphin County Court is still pending — and Sgt. Dennis Morris was appointed as interim chief, a position he still holds today.

______________________________________________________

 

READ MORE: Steelton mayor not aware of any talks with Middletown about police regionalization

______________________________________________________

 

In early 2017, Curry had framed the issue as whether Middletown residents would be willing to accept higher taxes — estimated by Curry at the time as up to $250 more a year for someone owning property valued at $100,000 — to pay for Middletown having the police department it needs; or whether residents would prefer getting rid of the department and contracting out with another municipality, or being part of a new regional force.

Curry and Kapenstein’s exploring the issue came nearly a year and a half after Dauphin County commissioners  released a county-funded report done by consultants pushing the idea of police regionalization in the county.

The county report included multiple police regionalization scenarios that would lessen the cost of providing police services to residents of county municipalities, including Middletown.

The report did not include an option between just Middletown and Steelton. However, Middletown and Steelton were part of several other police regionalization options that would have also included other nearby municipalities such as Lower Swatara and Highspire.

______________________________________________________

 

READ MORE: Middletown police calls up 12 percent, department under budget for 2019

______________________________________________________

 

Generally, the more municipalities involved, the greater the savings to residents, and the fewer municipalities, the less potential for savings, according to the county report.

For example, the greatest potential savings to residents would have resulted from the county forming one countywide police department, the report said.

The county held public meetings to promote the report, but county officials also made it clear that the county had no power to impose police regionalization or contracting out upon any municipality.

The issue got far enough in 2017 that council under Kapenstein held a public meeting in February to get a better sense of whether residents would be willing to pay a lot more to keep a stand-alone Middletown police, or whether residents were open to the other options.

Curry did not attend the Feb. 15 meeting, citing work obligations.

Of nine residents who spoke during the public comment period, none spoke in favor of contracting out with Lower Swatara, according to minutes of the meeting posted on the borough website.

Objections raised focused on concerns over longer response times, officers who would not know borough residents as well, and the likely need for more police services in town due to the growing Penn State Harrisburg campus.

Shortly after the public meeting, council set a 90-day time limit on the talks with Lower Swatara.

Curry and Kapenstein both said that the ball was in the township’s court.

In May 2017, Kapenstein announced that the talks had “ceased” with the borough never having received a proposal from the township for contracting out police services in Middletown.

______________________________________________________

 

READ MORE: Commissioner Pries says it’s up to municipalities to handle police department consolidation

______________________________________________________

 

Township Board of Commissioners President Jon Wilt said at the time the township had been waiting for input from Middletown regarding findings and suggestions for contracting out that then-Lower Swatara Township Manager Frank Williamson had come up with.

Fast forwarding to present, Curry at the end of the July 16 council meeting was adamant that the borough never received a proposal from Lower Swatara regarding contracting out police services in 2017.

“That was a complete falsity,” Curry said of the township having “indicated to the Press & Journal” at the time that it had sent the borough a proposal. “That never happened. That stalled out the conversation. I suspect they didn’t want to move forward because it was an election year. That was the end of it.”

Curry said the county has continued to contact him “multiple times, sometimes more than once a year” regarding whether the borough is interested in other options regarding the providing of police services in Middletown.

“The county wants to see it done. People have been trying to do it for 20 years,” Curry said. “I will always consider the option. That is my job. I’m not elected to this position to keep things static. You always have to think of options that are better for the residents, better for our finances, and also protect the jobs of our officers.”