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HONESDALE, PA — Anger, frustration, confusion and exasperation ran high at the December 12 Honesdale Borough Council meeting, as again borough police department issues were paramount. But this time they came to light in the wake of a minor snowstorm that left borough streets impassable to emergency vehicles.
It was Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Rich Doney who made the council aware that public safety had been jeopardized by non-enforcement of a borough ordinance banning on-street parking between 2 and 6 a.m. from December 1 to March 1. Doney said borough highway department employees were unable to plow streets because of parked cars. By law, DPW employees are not permitted to knock on doors and ask residents to move their cars; police must do that. The problem: there were no borough police on duty during the third shift (from 12 midnight to 8 a.m.) the night of the storm.
According to Mayor Melody Robinson’s records, at least one officer should have been on duty during that shift. Robinson, who has taken responsibility for duty roster scheduling away from Police Chief Rick Southerton, said verification of officer reporting is done via e-mail. Officers send the mayor an e-mail when they come on duty and again when they go off duty. Asked if she had e-mail confirmation of officer reporting for the night in question, Robinson said she would check, adding that she doesn’t delete police department e-mails. However, Robinson was certain that no officers had called in an absence that night.
There was another issue regarding duty roster scheduling. Robinson wanted to terminate the services of a part-time officer who failed to provide availability for the month of December until after the roster had been finalized, resulting in the cancellation of 10 shifts during December.
Southerton, who has not attended a council meeting for the last two or three months, was present and offered insight into both issues. He was opposed to terminating the officer who had not provided timely notice of availability, citing that officer’s first-rate job performance and explaining the reason behind his failure to provide availability when requested: the officer had just gotten a full-time job and had not yet received a duty schedule for it.
Regarding the apparent absence of officers on the night of the snowstorm, Southerton said he learned that an officer had been falsifying timesheets around the time Robinson assumed responsibility for duty roster scheduling, and that his preference would be to eliminate the services of that officer, not the one who was unable to provide availability.
But Southerton said that even if officers had been on duty the night of the snowstorm, it was unlikely they would have issued tickets for cars illegally parked on the street. Part-time officers are notoriously reluctant to issue tickets, because they are then required to appear in court during the hours when they should be at their day jobs.
Southerton offered to work all third shifts on snowstorm nights.
Vice President Bob Jennings said it was obvious that full supervision should be returned to Southerton, because he is not only aware of the myriad challenges facing borough officers but is also qualified to evaluate officer performance in the face of those challenges.
Robinson asked the public for solutions to the long-term problem of inadequate police coverage. As the meeting adjourned, she received one: don’t ticket illegally parked cars; tow them at owner’s expense.