Lower Swatara's "misinformation'' about its police
After reading the Press And Journal article on the Lower Swatara Twp. Board of Commissioners and their treatment of the police department, along with the follow-up letter by township Manager Anne Shambaugh (“Lower Swatara’s investing wisely in …
Lower Swatara's "misinformation'' about its police
After reading the Press And Journal article on the Lower Swatara Twp. Board of Commissioners and their treatment of the police department, along with the follow-up letter by township Manager Anne Shambaugh (“Lower Swatara’s investing wisely in its police force,’’ Viewpoints, April 20), I feel it necessary, acting on behalf of the Lower Swatara Twp. Police Civic Association (LSTPCA), to correct some of the information that was provided by the commissioners; their attorney, Michael Miller; and Shambaugh.
Miller stated that the police association refused to negotiate with the township. In truth, with this contract as well as the previous one, the association followed Act 111 procedures for collective bargaining. In all contract negotiations, the LSTPCA provides a written letter of intent to negotiate and obtains a signed copy from the township. Miller referenced the most recent contract: On Feb. 25, 2014, the LSTPCA submitted a letter of intent that was signed upon receipt by Samuel Monticello, then the township’s manager.
After a reasonable amount of time for response from the commissioners, the LSTPCA submitted a letter of intent to arbitrate – as is required by Act 111. Again the LSTPCA expressed desire to sit down and negotiate. There was no response from the board.
The commissioners not only refused to negotiate, they refused to acknowledge our intent to negotiate. Only at the arbitration hearing did the township submit its list of demands for the contract.
The contract arbitration award designated future hired officers to be paid $3,500 more than what our current three-year veteran officers are making. At the time of the award, it was explained that the township would not be hiring any officers in the foreseeable future, not realizing one would retire and another would leave the township after two years.
Faced with two vacancies, the township needs to hire but faces the problem of hiring a new officer at a rate above four veteran officers. In order to “justify’’ this, the commissioners use the loss of retirement benefits as the reason for a higher starting wage.
Hiring a new officer at $3,500 above current veteran officers’ wage sets the stage for animosity and discontent. Imagine asking the lower-paid officers to train, coach and supervise someone above their pay scale. A new officer would be paid $3,500 more than roughly one-third of the current police force.
• Shambaugh erroneously reports that base salaries range “from $48,000-$74,000’’ without mentioning that four officers with three years of service to this township are paid below $48,000.
In response to the commissioners’ saying they are awaiting the LSTPCA’s response to an offer to correct the pay issue: The commissioners never submitted an offer. A single commissioner offered the LSTPCA to submit an offer for wages above a new officer’s salary in exchange for some years of post-retirement benefits. Some offer, huh?
• The police officers’ salaries submitted by the township included the overtime paid to officers, making it appear that the police are better paid than they are. In order for the officers to make those figures, they had to work overtime! Those figures were not base pay. Shambaugh touts the officers’ having the “opportunity to earn as much as 20 percent more on top of their base salary’’ and says that some of the senior officers have made more than $100,000 and the junior officers nearly $60,000. That’s a lot of overtime work to get to those figures when the base pay is so low.
A cost of that overtime not mentioned is the stress, fatigue, risk of on-duty injury and the possibility of life-threatening errors made by overworked, underpaid police officers who are trying to make up for being employed by the lowest paying department in the area. Incidentally, if the police department was properly staffed, there would be less overtime.
The Lower Swatara Twp. Police Department is an Accredited Police Agency. That means we adhere to a higher level of standards in the performance of our duties. The accrediting agency reviews our department every three years to confirm our performance. However, we are the lowest paid police department in the area – lower than departments that are not accredited.
• Miller makes the case of a “drop in calls for 2016 and low use of overtime’’ as his reasoning for the township not replacing officers. He used first-quarter figures – cold months of the year when the call volumes are generally lower. The officers are generally family-oriented and tend to take their vacations in the warmer months, when their kids are out of school. Overtime will increase.
Shambaugh attempts in her letter to use one cold month – March 2016 and the 559 calls during it – as a comparison to the number of calls averaged over a 12-month period for the years 2015 and 2014. Her numbers for the previous years are artificially inflated. The call volume rises in the warmer months, thereby giving a larger average per month for those years.
• The police department is currently working at minimal staffing levels, fielding only two patrol officers per shift to cover roughly 15 square miles. Currently, an officer is injured and not expected to return to duty for three to five months. Any time an officer is sick or injured, or utilizes paid leave, it will cause overtime. Shambaugh states that “in times of need’’ the force’s detectives can be reassigned to patrol. Yes, in the past, one detective was put back into patrol due to the township commissioners’ short-sightedness. During that time, the remaining detective was unable to keep up with the cases referred to him. Patrol officers were tasked with following up on the cases while still having to perform their patrol duties. Many cases ended up minimally investigated, closed out and unsolved. In truth, many times the detectives could use a third detective to work cases.
• Shambaugh’s letter states that Lower Swatara has one sworn officer per 516 residents. The police department has 14 officers (one chief, two detectives, one school resource officer and 10 patrolmen). The numbers used by Shambaugh would indicate that there are 7,224 residents in Lower Swatara. The 2010 census indicates that there were 8,200 residents. I doubt the resident population decrease since 2010, so we’ll use that low figure of 8,200. Divide the 14 officers into the 8,200 residents and the ratio is one officer to 585 residents – however, the chief, two detectives and school resource officer are not on the street patrolling. That leaves 10 patrol officers, or a ratio of one officer to 820 residents, which puts Lower Swatara on par with Middletown and Lower Paxton Twp.
What Shambaugh fails to take in to account is the thousands of employees that work in Lower Swatara Twp. Consider Tyco, ACT, Phoenix Contact, Phillips, FedEX and all the smaller businesses along that stretch of Fulling Mill Road. Add to that the Pennsylvania Turnpike building and businesses along Eisenhower Boulevard – and don’t forget the “temporary’’ residents in the Penn State Harrisburg campus housing and all the trucking and other businesses scattered throughout the township. Many of the businesses are 24-hour operations. This doesn’t include people passing through the township or students that commute to Penn State Harrisburg. In reality, Shambaugh’s 1:516 ratio is nowhere near accurate.
• Shambaugh indicates there are nine marked patrol cars. Of the nine, one is missing in action. There are only eight marked patrol cars. Three have more than 100,000 miles on them (one has 130,000) and one is 12 years old. One hundred thousand miles is not a lot of miles for a family car – however, a police car is used to fight crime, chase speeders, respond to emergencies. They are routinely driven at high rates of speed and under emergency conditions and left idling for extended periods because the police computer equipment would drain the battery if the engine were turned off (and yes, the computer equipment is required to be on during our shift). Then they are driven again under emergency conditions. By the time a police car reaches 100,000 miles, its useful life as a police car is at an end.
• I have been employed by Lower Swatara Twp. since 1991. Aside from Chief Richard Brandt, I am the longest-serving officer in the department. Lower Swatara Twp. is a fine community with good people and excellent employees in all departments working for the township. Many choose to live and raise their families here. Over the years, there have been disagreements between the commissioners and the employees. The majority of those disagreements have been resolved without issue. It has only been under the current Board of Commissioners’ leadership that relations have deteriorated to the level of having to publicly respond to the misinformation being given.
The LSTPCA would like to thank the Press And Journal and reporter Eric Wise for a well-written article on the board’s actions.
Patrolman Randall T. Richards
Lower Swatara Twp. Police Department
(The writer is vice president of the Lower Swatara Twp. Police Civic Association.)