Is Honesdale’s police department getting defunded?

Sifting through Honesdale’s latest social media rumor

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 7/14/20

HONESDALE, PA — As the past several weeks of Wayne County Commissioners meetings have shown, Honesdale Borough is still reeling from the effects of a social media rumor from early June. But …

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Is Honesdale’s police department getting defunded?

Sifting through Honesdale’s latest social media rumor

Posted

HONESDALE, PA — As the past several weeks of Wayne County Commissioners meetings have shown, Honesdale Borough is still reeling from the effects of a social media rumor from early June. But now, the community has been presented with a new rumor, which was almost guaranteed to spread virally through Facebook. According to a resident’s Facebook status: the Honesdale Borough Council decided in a “closed-door session” that the police department is getting defunded by January 2021. The post alleges that Honesdale is “following suit with the radicalized, left-wing, anarchist cities.”

Several days after getting posted, the status had been shared about 950 times. Parts of the Facebook status are misleading; other parts are outright false.

The misunderstanding seems to stem from the fact that the borough’s contract with its police department is currently up for negotiation, and from an email that Honesdale Borough Councilor Robert Jennings wrote and sent to Eckert Seamans—the borough’s legal representation—on July 5.

In his email, Jennings requested that “the present contract be turned over to the Pennsylvania State Police. This will provide all businesses and residents of the borough with full-time protection as well as a vast savings each year.”

Jennings’ email expressing his own wishes for the police department, however, is not tantamount to the borough council making a closed-door, final decision to actually have the department disbanded. In fact, the borough has still not made any decisions about the police department. 

As the borough clarified in a press release, “That statement... is not official action of the borough or borough council. Borough council will continue its previously established position that it will begin and continue contract negotiations with the Honesdale Police Officers Association in anticipation of the expiration of its existing collective bargaining agreement with the association on December 31, 2020.”

The Facebook user also drew a connection to the current Black Lives Matter, anti-police brutality protests which have sprung up in communities throughout the world over the past month. However, the conversation about possibly shuttering Honesdale’s police department has been ongoing for years, and it has had nothing to do with police brutality and everything to do with money.

The Honesdale Borough Police Department only employs four full-time officers, one of the four is off duty indefinitely, due to injury. The department once had nine officers. With a small staff, for years the department has relied on PA State Police to take over when the borough had no officers on duty.

“Right now, we’ve been only working probably less than half the shifts,” Honesdale Borough Police Chief Richard Southerton said. “The state police have been covering for us.”

Jennings told the River Reporter that he wants Honesdale Borough Council to provide the funding to create a full-time, nine-officer local police department, or else the council should shut the department down altogether and turn coverage over to the PA State Police totally.

“I want immediately... to get the police force back to nine people starting next year so that we have full coverage,” Jennings said. “If not, turn it over to the state police, which won’t cost us a dime.”

According to the borough’s calculations, last year (when the council was drafting the 2020 budget and the topic of police staffing was front-and-center) hiring one full-time police officer would cost the borough about $89,000.

Despite its inaccuracies, the Facebook status was successful in stoking residents’ historically fiery convictions about the existence of the Honesdale police. Borough council will almost certainly be on the receiving end of some of that passion at its next meeting on Monday, July 20.

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