Do we have enough state police coverage in the Poconos?

Monroe County has lowest staffing rate in Pa.

By Michael Sadowski / http://www.poconorecord.com

Pocono Record Writer

May 22, 2011

State police staffing in Monroe County is below the rest of the state, but not at levels considered critical, officials say.

The three state police barracks that cover Monroe County are staffed at almost 87 percent, while barracks statewide are staffed at about 94 percent.

State police said it’s not a worrisome number — and it’s about to improve.

“We’re actually in as good a shape as anybody, to be honest,” said Troop N Interim Commander Lt. Robert Bartal. “Come July, we’re going to be even better.”

That month, Troop N will see six members of its uniformed force leave, but it is scheduled to pick up 17 new troopers from transfers.

Barracks are grouped into regional troops. Troop N is based in Hazleton and includes the three barracks covering Monroe County and the Hazleton and Bloomsburg barracks.

Lehighton is the lowest staffed barracks at about 76 percent, but it also has the smallest number of enforcement positions.

The Swiftwater barracks are staffed at about 89 percent, and Fern Ridge is at around 82 percent.

Troop R in Dunmore oversees the Blooming Grove barracks, the only state police barracks responsible for Pike County.

Trooper William Satkowski, the troop’s public information officer, would not release specific staffing levels at any of the troop’s barracks, calling it “an officer safety issue.”

He did say that even if staffing levels are low, troopers often will be asked to work at whichever barracks needs the most help.

For instance, troopers in the Swiftwater and Blooming Grove barracks often interchange when there is a staffing issue.

“People get the perception that there is an invisible wall between counties or troops,” Satkowski said. “That’s not the case. County lines don’t stop someone from working at a different barracks. We do try to curb our vacancies or shortfalls by adjusting throughout the troop.”

In some Monroe County municipalities, the state police are the only law enforcement presence.

These areas are customarily outside the jurisdictions of municipal police departments and tend to be more rural and less densely populated.

Police said that help is on the way after the graduation of 131 troopers from the state police academy in April. That cut the vacancy deficit around the state from about 9 percent to around 6 percent.

“The relief is already being felt statewide,” said Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Myra Taylor.

State police officials in Harrisburg said another class of 80 cadets started in May, and another class is anticipated to start in July.

Gov. Tom Corbett set aside money for additional cadet classes in the 2011 budget.

“Once those classes finish,” said state Rep. Mario Scavello, R-176, “everyone will be at full staffing.”

Bruce Edwards, president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association, said staffing levels need to be addressed throughout Pennsylvania.

“Trooper staffing is an issue across the state and has been for quite some time,” he said. “As the state budget process moves forward, it’s imperative that the funding proposed in Gov. Corbett’s budget for new cadet classes remain intact.”

To pay for those training classes, Scavello said a bill that could be passed within the next 60 days would funnel money from traffic tickets that state police write directly to state police training.

Currently, he said, when a traffic ticket is written in a municipality with no local police force, the municipality still receives half that ticket fine.

Under the new bill, municipalities without a police force will lose that 50 percent, and it will be sent to the state police.

“Personally, I don’t think they should get it,” he said. “They’re not paying for police. Municipalities have been getting these dollars for a long time, and they probably shouldn’t.”

Scavello said the reason for the Monroe County barracks being under its normal staffing complement likely is caused by higher crime rates in other parts of the state.

Those areas, he said, receive preference for trooper openings.

“I’m not saying we don’t have crime; we do,” he said. “But there are other areas that are getting hit hard. And with the Rendell Administration, (the) Philadelphia (area) got a new state police barracks (in Trevose).”

Scavello also is pushing for barracks in the Poconos to get extra help in summer, when the tourist season swells the population far past Monroe County’s population of about 180,000.

“In the past, we couldn’t have done that,” he said. “But when the new troopers get through cadet training, it’s something that can be done.”

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COUNTING COPS

Staffing levels at state police barracks that cover parts of Monroe:

FERN RIDGE

  • Covers Chestnuthill and Jackson townships. Patrols Interstate 80 from the I-380 split to the Carbon County line.
  • Averaging 598 calls per month this year, January to April

20 of 25 troopers

4 of 5 patrol corporals

4 of 4 crime unit

Total: 28 of 34 (82 percent)

LEHIGHTON

  • Covers Eldred, Polk and Ross townships in Monroe County
  • Averaging 408 calls per month this year, January to April

16 of 21 troopers

3 patrol corporals out of 4

3 in the crime unit of 4 positions (interviewing for the fourth)

Total: 22 of 29 (76 percent)

SWIFTWATER

  • Covers Hamilton, Middle Smithfield, Paradise, Price and Smithfield townships. It also patrols I-80 from the New Jersey border to the I-380 split, and I-380 to the Wayne County line.
  • Averaging 1,340 calls per month this year, January to April

35 of 38 troopers

5 of 6 corporals

6 of 7 crime unit troopers

1 of 1 crime unit corporal

0 of 1 crime unit sergeant (interviewing for position)

Total: 47 of 53 (89 percent)

BLOOMING GROVE

Figures were unavailable

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