The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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April 16, 2014

Southwest mulls how to adopt study points

SOUTHWESTERN MERCER COUNTY — Even though some members of the Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Department had little respect for a study of the department completed by a consultant, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. pledged to implement as many of the study’s recommendations as he could.

“Many of the recommendations in the study, we were unknowingly trying to correct anyway,” Smoot told the police commission Tuesday, specifically mentioning the department reviewing and updating its policies.

The problem is coming up with the money for recommendations that incur a cost.

Smoot told the commission he hopes to have a price next month for what it would cost to buy an evidence tracking system.

The study by International City/County Management Association, Washington, was critical of the department’s handling of evidence. The study said the current hand-tagging system should be replaced by a computerized system, and consultants said weapons and drugs were improperly stored.

Smoot said he is looking at a computerized evidence inventory system that would assign a bar code to each piece of evidence. The system would have a bar code reader to call up data on each piece.

The average system cost appears to be $8,000 to $14,000, he said, adding that he is looking for a cheaper alternative that still would be trustworthy.

Farrell Councilman Robert Burich and Mayor Olive McKeithan said they were told by a state official that there might be grant money available for equipment.

There will be no state money for training, Burich said, which Smoot said underscored the difficulty in meeting the study’s recommendation to boost and standardize training.

Smoot said there are many free training sessions available, but they often are held in towns far enough away from the Shenango Valley that the department has to pay transportation and lodging costs.

Still, Smoot said, he is sending police for training “all over the place” and has a new system of reporting each policeman’s training sessions to the commission.

The department is even looking at some study issues that members have a real problem with. There was little support for changing the shift schedules from three, eight-hour periods a day to two, 12-hour periods, but the police union is trying to come up with a framework as to how such a schedule would work.

“If we decide to go that way, it would be part of the negotiations,” Smoot said.

A 12-hour schedule would have to be memorialized by police contract. The current pact expires Dec. 31 and Smoot said he expects officials will hit the bargaining table this summer.

Shenango Township Supervisor David Garrett asked about the recommendation that the department have someone analyze crime data for the department, and whether a policeman already on staff could do the job or be trained to do it.

Smoot replied that he is working with the county to take advantage of the county’s computerized mapping system, which could be used to track incidents and their locations.

It would be cheaper to buy a license and use the county’s existing system than for the department to buy its own system, Smoot said. He added that if Southwest and the city of Farrell could share a license, it would cut the expense to the department even further.

It would likely fall to one or two sergeants to learn the system and handle analyses for the department, he said.

Smoot also made two notes on funding. He said the department was in line to receive a $115,000 state grant when the study came about and the grant was nixed.

“I’m waiting for permission back from (the state Department of Community and Economic Development) to reapply,” he said.

Smoot also called on the commission to revamp the assessment formula for municipal members. Farrell, West Middlesex and Wheatland pay according to call volume, road miles and population, while Shenango Township, the last municipality to join, is supposed to pay a straight 24.9 percent of the budget, a percentage that hasn’t been strictly adhered to.

“We have to make it fair to all communities,” Burich said.

Commission Chairman Thomas R. Tulip asked the commission members to look over the 14 principal recommendations in the study and give their opinions on ones to pursue and ones to ignore.

Burich said he does not support lowering the minimum of four policeman on patrol for each shift to three.

“That is by the wayside as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

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