Originally Published May 15, 2012 23:08
By TOM MURSE
The county’s top law enforcement official wasn’t notified. Neither was the chairman of the county commissioners.
State lawmakers here?
They, too, were kept in the dark. The brass of the Pennsylvania state police kept their plan to shutter the Ephrata barracks and strip Lancaster of its headquarters hush-hush — that is, until word began to spread from the troopers and their union about a month ago.
Top officials from the taxpayer-funded agency, who faced lawmakers for the first time at a Monday hearing in Gap, were roundly criticized by local leaders for their lack of communication.
But they weren’t there to hear it.
State police Commissioner Frank Noonan and Lt. Col. George Bivens, without explanation, left the nearly three-hour hearing after their brief testimony at the beginning.
Their departure frustrated local officials.
“I was disappointed that I was not consulted on such a large potential public safety issue and that they left the hearing when they were done testifying,” District Attorney Craig Stedman said Tuesday.
Stedman, who testified after Noonan and Bivens, told lawmakers he first heard of the realignment plan through “the grapevine.”
Likewise, county Commissioner Scott Martin told members of the joint House and Senate panel that he became aware of the planned closure of the Ephrata barracks and downgrade of Troop J on Lincoln Highway East only through “whisper down the line.”
Attempts to reach a state police spokesperson were unsuccessful on Tuesday. Spokeswoman Maria A. Finn did not return a call for comment, and a voice mailbox for the agency’s Public Information Office was full Tuesday.
A state police official who answered the phone in Harrisburg said there was no other way to reach the office.
Under the realignment plan, the troopers now stationed at the Lancaster barracks would report to Troop L in Reading, though they would continue to be based here.
The Ephrata station, which patrols Elizabeth, Brecknock and Caernarvon townships and the northern part of Salisbury Township, could be closed under the realignment plan.
At Monday’s hearing, Noonan and Bivens said the moves would have a “neutral” effect on police coverage — a statement that caught state Rep. Gordon Denlinger’s attention.
“While it’s true that the flow of communication has not been consistent or adequate, the deeper concern on my part is the public safety impact that will result from transferring police personnel out of our area,” said Denlinger, a Republican who represents northeast Lancaster County.
“The suggestion that troopers and facilities can be transferred out of Lancaster County without negative impact is absurd,” he said Tuesday.
To date, though, the state police have provided no consistent written plan for the realignment, leaving lawmakers scratching their heads.
“It’s one part of their decision-making process that I’m disappointed in,” said state Sen. Lloyd Smucker, who requested the hearing. “A decision of this magnitude, you would think, would involve a public vetting, or at least a vetting with law enforcement and local officials.
“That just didn’t occur.”
Smucker said he hasn’t seen any proposal in writing.
“I’ve never seen, in fact, an outline of exactly what Troop J — or what’s left of Troop J — would look like after the potential changes are made,” he said.