I quickly cornered him and began to pepper him with questions about everything, ranging from his sore shoulder to his reelection bid. You see, I already had a bunch of really tough questions ready for Councilman Tony Branco, who had agreed to meet me. But I stiffed him. I overslept. I was up too late the previous night preparing questions like, "What's your favorite color? ... What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?" So I hammered poor Rev. Dowd instead.
Dowd's a class act in a classless council. A quiet man who listens. He softly told me he'd like to see the county study the idea of a countywide police department next year. That actually makes sense.
Statewide, we have 2,630 local goverments. The Lehigh Valley consists of 62 separate muncipalities in two counties. Locally, we elect 466 officials to represent 578,500 people, or 1 local and paid elected official for every 1240 residents. And this is without looking at our 17 school districts. Given this confusing and fragmented mix of local governance, it's no surprise that our police protection comes from a mix of state troopers, municipal and regional officers and even a few constables here and there.
A countywide police department would run more efficiently, lowering administrative costs. It would professionalize police officers, enabling them to get superior training. Technological advances unavailable to smaller departments would be a reality in a larger county force. District Attorney Morganelli could wield a powerful sword against a growing gang presence. Right now, some Northampton County communities like Williams Township have no police department. That's an abdication of the responsibility to give citizens safety and security. Why bother even having a government if you can't do that?
But are deputy sheriffs really police officers? Not according the state supreme court, at least not when it comes to wiretap requests. There's enough uncertainty that state rep. Craig Dally has introduced legislation equating deputy sheriffs with municipal police officers. Dalley's bill needs quick attention from the boys and girls in the land of midnight payraises.
Will a countywide police department just drive up our tax bills? A study costs nothing. And Allegheny County's sheriff reserve deputy program is a great starting point. Its reserve unit consists of fully trained officers at no cost to taxpayers. It includes uniformed street, motorcycle, firearms and boat patrol units. They are all volunteers. They even buy their own uniforms and equipment. But they are also professionals, and understaffed municipal departments are taking advantage of these reservists.
In addition to being a good starting point,this could actually save money for both the county and its municipalities.