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HONESDALE, PA — At the December 19 Honesdale Borough Council meeting, a conciliatory stance was demonstrated by all parties involved in management of the borough’s police department. That breakthrough, the apparent result of a productive brainstorming session among mayor, public works director, police chief and some council members, also revealed the complexities of scheduling officer duty rosters in the face of critical understaffing, police union patrol rules and borough budgetary constraints on overtime payments.
Mayor Melody Robinson apologized for stating erroneously at the council’s December 12 meeting that borough police were scheduled for third shift duty (12 midnight to 8 a.m.) the night of the season’s first measurable snow storm.
In fact, it was one of several unfilled shifts during December, significant because it highlighted the need to ticket cars in violation of an ordinance that prohibits parking on borough streets from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. December 1 until March 1. Illegally parked cars made it impossible for Department of Public Works crews to plow streets that were soon impassable to emergency vehicles.
That situation prompted the council’s December 12 vote to make third-shift borough police staffing mandatory from December 1 through February 28. But another council vote, forbidding the use of deputy sheriffs for third-shift duty rosters Sunday through Thursday nights, means that the borough’s three full-time officers must fill almost all third shifts during those three months.
Police Chief Rick Southerton, who volunteered at the December 12 meeting to cover all third shifts during snowstorms himself, has long been opposed to taking full-time officers away from first shift, where they work with the district attorney’s office, court system and other law enforcement agencies to resolve active cases. He said, “There’s a limit to how far you can stretch three people.”
The practice change raises two foremost concerns: payment of overtime to officers exceeding their normal work hours and potential for violation of police union rules requiring a minimum of two officers on patrol duty for all shifts. Southerton suggested the latter might be surmounted by restricting third-shift coverage to administrative office duty that could, if necessary, include writing tickets for cars parked illegally during a snow storm. But Southerton thinks that will be unnecessary after the first round of tickets is issued, bringing public awareness to the ordinance.
Robinson also rescinded her recommendation to terminate a part-time police officer unavailable for duty during November and December, as said officer, whose work was praised by Southerton, has since committed to some January shifts.
The council then turned its attention to the still unsigned Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) pursuant to the Safe Schools Act of 1994. Southerton has advised against signing it, citing Wayne Highland School Disttrict’s (WHSD) interpretation of the district’s “limited discretion” to investigate and charge offenses, up to summary offense, occurring on its grounds and in its vehicles. Before any borough official signs the MOU, Southerton, Robinson and Joseph LoBasso, head of security at WHSD, will meet to discuss its terms.
Despite the foregoing administrative challenges, the borough police department regularly proves its mettle. Last week, a routine traffic stop by officer Keith Rynearson netted 114 bags of heroin.