Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lehigh County Commissioners Refuse to Fund Community Policing Program

It was one of those nights. Lehigh County's hearing room was packed with so many cops I felt I was in a 7-11. District Attorney Jim Martin was there, too, pacing while smoke billowed out his nostrils. Before last night's festivities were over, even Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski had joined in the fun. But despite their pleas, Lehigh County Commissioners refused to reinstate Don Cunningham's $1 million grant proposal for a three year community policing program. The voter went strictly along party lines, with all Republicans opposed.

There were many great arguments in support of community policing. Cunningham told commissioners this is really just an extension of the many community revitalization funding programs already in place.

But Commissioner Andy Roman was unswayed by arguments that community officers are "proactive," "Ambassadors," or "sources of intelligence." When this idea was first proposed, he argued that the county should make sure its own house is in order before giving money to other municipalities. Last night, several deputy sheriffs suggested that money should go to them.

Deputies Mike Wacas (sp?) and John Barrett (sp?) complained their department is the only one left in the state that still uses revolvers, which leaves them outgunned against people carrying semi-automatics. They also noted the radios provided to them are so bad they can't reach the communications center. I guess these guys want bazookas or something. According to Barrett, "It's dangerous. We don't just deal with inmates, we deal with the public, too."

But does he deal with bloggers?

What these deputies failed to make clear is that their boss, Sheriff Rossi, has never asked for these things. Where the hell was he? And DA Martin told commissioners he won't consider deputies law enforcement officers until a statute is adopted.

When Pawlowski arrived, he rambled on for at least twenty minutes, telling commissioners what a great job he's done with Allentown's fiscal affairs, turning a $8 million deficit into a $6 million surplus, among other things. And of course, he wants those officers to reduce the "perception" of crime. Call me crazy, but if I wanted a handout, I wouldn't be bragging about how much money I have in the bank. At one point, he even told Commissioner Glenn Eckhart, "You have no idea what you're talking about." After the vote, Pawlowski walked up and criticized commissioners again. "It's a sad day for county government ... ."

Although commissioners claim they may decide to fund a community policing program, I think it's dead. Would you want to give money to a guy who acts like he doesn't need it and then insults you?


Anonymous said...

Mayor Pawlowski was so pissed, because he likely was counting on that money to fund existing budgeted costs. I'm certain he would not have expanded "Community Policing" with the additional funds.

Anonymous said...

A message to Mayor Pawlowski -

It is a sad day for Allentown City Government when they need welfare from county taxpayers who live outside the city.

This is the Pawlowski dilemma. I have done a great financial job but I need more money.

The reality is Allentown has had back to back deficits under Pawlowski.

2006 - borrowed $10 million, we had a $5 million "surplus"

2007 - borrowed $22 million, we had a $10 million "surplus".

Do the math.....

Anonymous said...

Interesting civics lesson I got last night attending my first Lehigh County Commissioners meeting. I exited right after the $1 million amendment was defeated again, 5-4. The single-mindedness of the 5 Republican commissioners who nixed it notwithstanding, what struck me most was the comically high level of self-absorption oozing from many of the contestants, especially Mayor Pawlowski, commissioner Glenn Eckhart, and Lehigh County DA Jim Martin.

Pawlowski came late and contributed little other than his standard litany of nothing but good news about Allentown thanks to him. Commissioner Eckhart went on an embarrassing little rant about how “insulted” he was that anyone would question his commitment to supporting law enforcement as he voted against the million. Forget about all those cops in the room who were insulted by the commissioners’ 5-4 verdict against them; let’s focus on commissioner Eckhart’s feelings and reputation.

But DA Jim Martin was in a self-absorbed league all by himself, employing a style I would describe as neighborhood bully-- storming to and away from the podium, dominating the discussions, cutting in front of other speakers waiting in line (at one point, commissioner chairman Percy Dougherty had to ask Martin to go to the end of the line so those who hadn’t had four turns already like him could speak for their first time), blowing a gasket in exasperation at the commissioners who weren’t gonna give him his way, God dammit, and saying endearing things to them like, “Go ahead, interrogate me, I’m not scared.”

I dunno, Martin looked scared to me. And I had an excellent vantage point. I was sitting about 10 feet from where he was standing in line most of the evening to speak, again. Whenever Martin was standing near me, a sheriff attached himself to Martin's hip like a secret service agent, hand on holster (I swear) and staring at me. I wish all the cops in the room had had this kind of determined focus. If they had, they may have gotten their million. Instead, the several who broke ranks and argued like jealous siblings at Christmas for more of this or more of that for their departments (and there’s that me me me again) gave the commissioners their most plausible rationale for voting against the million dollar amendment, in my perception.

Would things have turned out differently if last evening’s guest filibusterer speaker DA Jim Martin had been able to present his case in a less desperate situation, like at the proposal’s initial airing at the April 9th commissioners meeting two weeks ago? (the meeting Martin couldn’t make because of a “longstanding commitment to be in NYC that evening”)? We’ll never know I guess. But it appears the 2 weeks gave the Republican commissioners 2 more weeks to dig their heels in.

And while I supported County Exec Don Cunningham’s proposal (and I thought Cunningham was masterful in the measured and selfless team captain vibe he exuded), I must admit I really enjoyed seeing DA Jim Martin finally lose something.

In the end, all Republican DA Jim Martin needed to do was to “flip” just one (1) of his Republican brethren commissioners into the “yes” column.

But mighty Casey struck out. Looking. And fuming.

Like all neighborhood bullies, Jim Martin likes to operate unopposed.

For my own self-absorbed reasons, my hope is that majority opposition to and rejection of DA Jim Martin becomes a trend that continues through the next election and delivers us a new DA in Lehigh County.

Anonymous said...

Commn Bernard,

Some Accusations were directed at the City of Allentown by Eckert and Ed restrainfully stepped up to the podium and said, you do not know what your are talking about. I thought it was a lighter moment of the evening. Anyway, I beleive this was after the vote was taken. Now you know the rest of the story.

Every Commissioner should be required to park themsleves on 7ths street on a Friday night. I twould be more enlightening than going to a Chicken dinner or a bingo.

The sherriffs deputies did made a compelling case, though. Sounds like in the past they did not have a voice at budget time.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon 1:10,

Allentown Mayor Pawlowski did neither his city nor Cunningham any favors last night. Bill Villa was present, and his recitation of Pawlowski's contribution corroborates what I saw insofar as Eckhart and Pawlowski are concerned. They both embarrassed themselves as well as the people they represent.

You are right when you note Pawlowski's comment to Eckhart was made after the vote, but I heard no laughter.

I support the community policing proposal set forth by Cunningham. It's a brilliant idea that might actually reduce the amount of money the county spends reacting to crime. DA Martin and the police chiefs made a very compelling case, and a Republican DA had a big impact on republican commissioners.

I was unmoved by the deputies because their real beef is with their boss. If Sheriff Rossi wants this equipment for his troops, I'm sure he'd get it.

But Pawlowski should be discouraged from appearing befor that body again. Instead of pointing to A-town's very real problems, he was stressing its accomplishments. That might be a good "elect me" pitch, but it is no way to ask for money.

Anonymous said...

To me the theatrics from all are unnecessary, the facts are clear. The money is clearly there, the need is clearly there, the DA strongly supports the Safe Streets Initiative, the Chiefs Association strongly supports it..... and again, a party line vote. The arguments against the measure are without merit. This is a head scratcher .... I will continue to support this needed measure. Public safety is a core responsibilty of any government. If you do not have a safe community, you do not have a community. If you support the measure send an email, write a letter or call the government center and voice your opinion. I can be reached at 610 751-2745 if you want to speak with me.

Timothy Russo said...

"The perception of crime." How about the actual crime throughout Allentown (except that lovely Renaissance Square)?

Pawlowski is a self congratulatory blowhard and his cronies are just as bad. One question though: What were Cunningahm's plan with community policing? How did he want to apply the money he was looking for?

And remember, there is no crime if the morning call doesn't report it anyway.

Anonymous said...

" ... Eckhart and Pawlowski ... they both embarrassed themselves as well as the people they represent." -Bernie

Eckhart's and Pawlowski's behavior paled in comparison to DA Jim Martin's amazingly obnoxious neighborhood bully act. But as usual, nobody confronts Martin on it.

In today's Morning Call coverage of the meeting, Martin gets a complete pass on his overtly jerky behavior, like he always does in that "newspaper." Martin (the Safe Streets proposal's co-sponsor and the county's top law enforcement officer) missed the pivotal April 9 commissioners meeting on the proposal ... and not only did The Morning Call not report this highly relevant fact, they wrote their April 10 coverage of the meeting in a way that readers would get the impression Martin was in attendance and participating at the meeting. He wasn't. Martin was in NYC. And because April 9 was a Wednesday, I'll bet you $1 that "longstanding commitment" of Martin's to be in NYC that evening was to attend a Broadway Matinee Show followed by dinner. But whatever the reason, DA Jim Martin should not have gotten a pass from The Morning Call for having missed that meeting.

Granted, I have a nuclear, anti-DA Jim Martin bias. And maybe Martin behaves like he did this past Wednesday night all the time and those who are cursed by having to interact with him regularly have just come to accept this kind of behavior. Paul Carpenter has helpfully packaged it as "No Nonsense DA Jim Martin." I don't think so. To me, Martin's neighborhood bully act it's 100% Pure Nonsense.

In the categories of embarrassment to himself and embarrassment to the people of Lehigh County he represents, DA Jim Martin and his self-absorbed, short fuse, neighborhood bully rage act is in a league of its own.

Lehigh County needs, and deserves, a better DA.

Anonymous said...

Identity --- Dennis Pearson

If we interpret the information presented in the Morning Call story the whole issue is window dressing .... If it is correct that the $1,000,000 (1 million) offered for community Officers is a three year package then only $333,333.33 would be available on a yearly basis for the program although money would carry to another year if not used. The above figure would mean that at $50,000 maximum only 6 officers could be hired not thirteen so the money percentage of total officer cost would have to be adjusted lower to cover the thirteen.

Explanation --- the program says that up to 50% of an officers total salary ( this includes health benefits but not overtime could be reimbursed by the County. The maximum reimbursement is $50,000. But with the funding of more then six police officers, this maximum must be adjusted lower unless more money is poured into the fund.

In otherwards the $1,000,000 figure at 1/3 use a year since it is a three year program may be inadequately funded. The County would need to fund a total $3,000,000 over a three year period just to cover 20 officers at $50,000 maximum.

I ask, when will Cunningham address the County need for better communication systems for County Officials involved in police enforcement and judicial functions? He can do this even if Sheriff Rossi does not speak out.

And I add that the vote on this issue was along party lines. The Democrats joined ranks to promote a Cunningham issue and the Republicans opposed it on stated grounds of not wishing to break new legislative ground by subsidizing operational payroll costs of police enforcement in the municipalities.

But the issue may not be over as the line item for the Safe Streets Initiative was essentially passed with $1 in the 2008 budget; but the program will remain essentially moot until further discussion involving political parameters of the program are resolved.

In the case of Allentown, the Allentown Police Force already has plans to reestablish its Community Police Program. The catch is, they would prefer that some of these costs be shared by the County.

I suppose that when you look at it this way, the issue is the old argument promoted by former Allentown City Councilman Ben Howells for Revenue sharing combined with the idea of serving Regionalism through a pro-active County government.

The question here is should the County limit its help to the municipalities to providing assistance for equipment and training of personnel or expand its role into providing subsidization for municipal police operational payroll costs. Others say that the County should develop its own regional police force expanding on what functions it already does.

Having spoke on the subject at the County Commissioner meeting Wednesday, I don't think that Cunningham appreciated my own warnings to municipalities about accepting funds for payroll operational costs through the carrot approach.

However, I am not in the business of buffeting the Cunningham administration. Although I think that Don Cunningham is a good guy.

After all, I am not a County Commissioner and do not have to play politics to show support for the First Democratic Party County Executive ...