HONESDALE, PA — Early on Labor Day morning, Honesdale business-owner Gina Pritchard was shocked to find out that somebody had broken into her store, Mommy and Me Consignments on Main Street. …
HONESDALE, PA — Early on Labor Day morning, Honesdale business-owner Gina Pritchard was shocked to find out that somebody had broken into her store, Mommy and Me Consignments on Main Street. Whoever was in her store sometime between late Sunday night and early Monday morning did not steal a noticeable amount of merchandise, if any. In fact, it looks like all they did was clear off a bed to lay down on. However, Pritchard remains unnerved by the fact that no police were immediately available to come assist her.
Pritchard said that the owners of the neighboring Gravity Ice Cream left their shop after 10 p.m. on Sunday, and everything seemed normal. By the time they returned the next day, the glass door on the side of Mommy and Me’s building had been shattered from the outside in. They texted Pritchard pictures of the damage around 7:50 a.m.
At 20,000 square feet, the Mommy and Me store is expansive and tightly packed with all kinds of merchandise. Pritchard said that if the person, or people, who had broken the door had still been inside the store hiding, they would have been difficult to find. She did not want to enter the building that morning without some protection.
The Honesdale Borough Police Department, which employs four full-time officers—one of whom is off-duty indefinitely due to injury—is unable to cover the borough 24/7. No officers from the borough were working between 12 midnight and 8 a.m. on Labor Day. And after 8 a.m., there was only one officer on duty. Being alone, he was not allowed to respond to calls. Honesdale Police Chief Richard Southerton said that this is a rule that he’s asked the borough’s labor attorneys to “resolve” in the past.
With the borough police department unavailable, Pritchard called the Pennsylvania State Police’s (PSP) “Honesdale” station, which is actually located in Cherry Ridge, about 10 minutes out of town. Pritchard said that the officer who answered the phone told her that the borough of Honesdale wasn’t the PSP’s “jurisdiction,” and that all the troopers were busy dealing with another situation.
“Unless it’s an absolute emergency, like a domestic [abuse] situation or a murder, we don’t go down there,” an officer at the Cherry Ridge station told the River Reporter.
Pritchard assembled a small team of family and friends to help her comb through the store since no local nor state police were available.
“That was disheartening because you don’t know what’s in here,” Pritchard said. “You don’t know... what you’re walking into.”
About half-an-hour after her initial phone call, PSP called Pritchard back to let her know that a trooper had become available to assist her, but she and her group had already searched the store. The following Tuesday, borough police came and took a blood-stained quilt from the bed that the person had likely laid down on.
Although the majority of municipalities throughout Wayne County do not have a local police force at all, Honesdale’s understaffed department has been a concern for residents and business owners here for years. Pritchard said that she was unaware of the borough’s staffing troubles until this incident with her store. She said that now she’s concerned that without a full-time police force, average residents will begin taking the “law into their own hands,” and wondering why the borough can’t find money in its budget to hire more officers.
She’s hardly the first to express these concerns or ask these questions. One of the most consistent lobbyists for beefing up borough police coverage has perhaps been chief Southerton himself.
“[There are] all kinds of issues down here that put us in the position we’re in that nobody seems to want to address,” Southerton said.
He specifically noted that (due to a PA Supreme Court case from last year) there is now red tape involved to even hire part-time officers, who must come from a civil service list. This is a lengthy hiring process in which an applicant goes through a physical, a written exam and an interview just to be placed on a waiting list with two other applicants. According to borough councilors during a meeting last year, the process takes about six months before they can hire somebody.
“Those three people are normally on a list for a full-time job,” Southerton said. “Now [the borough] is saying, ‘We’re going to have a civil service list, and we may offer them part-time employment.’ Who’s going to come down and go through all that... to get a part-time job?”
The Honesdale Borough Council has often looked for room in the budget to hire more full-time police officers, but in the past, councilors have reached an impasse over what this would do to residents’ tax bills. Last year, the council raised taxes by 13 percent when drafting the 2020 budget. Had they included hiring additional officers into the budget, it would have been a 20 percent increase. Still, some on council favor biting that bullet to get back to 24/7 police coverage, including councilor Bob Jennings, who owns a business across the street from Mommy and Me. He points to incidents like the most recent break-in as justification for hiring five additional officers.
“This is an example [of] why there needs to be police protection around the clock in the borough,” he said, adding that, in his opinion, the PSP should not be burdened with covering Honesdale. “For the past several years, there has been no midnight shift, leaving the door wide open for any unscrupulous persons or mishaps that may arrive during the nighttime hours.”
While some, like Pritchard and Jennings, are advocating for a full-fledged police department, others have asked the council to consider investing its money in other ways to “reduce the need for a police force” at all. Honesdale council will soon begin drafting its budget for 2021, and few seem to be satisfied with the status quo.