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Honesdale police staffing and safety concerns

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 10/16/19

HONESDALE, PA — Concerns about an understaffed police force and related safety issues were front and center at Honesdale’s last borough council meeting on October 14.

The Honesdale …

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Honesdale police staffing and safety concerns

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HONESDALE, PA — Concerns about an understaffed police force and related safety issues were front and center at Honesdale’s last borough council meeting on October 14.

The Honesdale Borough Police Department currently only employs three, “potentially four,” full-time police officers, according to police chief Richard Southerton. Years ago, there were nine. A group of part-time officers help round out the shift schedule, but it’s still not enough to run a 24/7 police force. There are often no borough officers on duty between the late-night and early-morning hours.

Several area residents began the conversation during public comment, including firefighter Jerry Theobald.

“I find it also disturbing that the volunteer firemen go to a call and find out no police are coming,” he said, calling on council to “render the situation.”

Multiple residents also said that speeding has become a problem in the borough, specifically on Church Street and Cliff Street near the Catholic Family Community Center, which is a school-zone.

Southerton was also in attendance with similar sentiments. He has been critical of understaffing for years.

“I’ve brought this issue up over and over and over again,” he said. “We’re swamped, I don’t think people understand how much work we do.”

He said that he and borough secretary Judith Poltanis recently attended a webinar with a labor attorney, who advised them that Honesdale cannot legally continue scheduling part-time officers as they have been, without affording them civil service protections.

“They’re part-time officers, they’re not full-time, and they’re becoming full-time officers the way we’re working them,” he said.

Those officers are “becoming full-time” in workload only though, and that presents another problem. The department is having difficulty keeping part-timers around, since they realize they have no hope of ever getting promoted to a full-time position, Southerton said.

In response to residents’ complaints about an increase in people speeding and violating traffic laws, Southerton said that was directly related to understaffing as well.

“One of the reasons traffic’s not getting done… is these [officers], instead of doing traffic, they’re doing what detectives should be doing,” Southerton said. “It’s not just one thing, it’s a combination of everything.”

President Michael Augello said that he agreed with Southerton, but that this is a matter for a future council to handle.

“There’s an election in a few weeks and we may have some council member changes—we’ll certainly gain at least one or two new members, and I think personally it’s up to them to make a final decision,” he said. “This is a major, major decision.”

Augello made it clear, several times, that if the council were to make room in next year’s budget for hiring more officers, the tax increase would be significant. He threw out some estimates of just how significant that increase could be, but he and other officials quickly said that the council still needs to do some calculations to get an accurate idea of what it would cost residents.

Councilor Robert Jennings suggested collaborating with state police to cover shifts that Honesdale police were unable to cover. The council announced there will be a special meeting on Monday, October 28 at 6 p.m. to discuss next year’s budget, and that police issues will be a part of the conversation.

In other safety-related news, councilor Jim Jennings provided an update to last month’s concerns of pedestrian safety at the four-way intersection of Park Street and Main Street. Currently, west-bound drivers turning right from Park Street onto North Main Street have a green arrow at the same time that pedestrians have a “walk signal.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) recommended that pedestrians get a three-second advance, giving them a head start before drivers get a green arrow. Jennings called this the “first step” in making that intersection, as well as the Fourth Street intersection at the other end of town, safer. 

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