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For the third year in a row, Gov. Tom Wolf is proposing a fee on municipalities that rely strictly on Pennsylvania State Police for police coverage.

Wolf included a sliding scale fee for the nearly 1,300 Pennsylvania municipalities that do not have a municipal police department in his 2019-20 budget proposal.

The fee ranges from $8 per person for municipalities with 2,000 or fewer residents to $166 per person for municipalities with 20,000 or more residents. It would generate an estimated $103 million each year.

Wolf is not the first governor to attempt to seek reimbursement for State Police services.

The debate over whether municipalities that do not have a police department should pay more for the services they receive from State Police dates back several decades.

State troopers are the only police force in 1,291 of the state’s 2,561 municipalities, according to state data. Another 419 municipalities get part-time coverage. The remaining 851 pay for their own police force or share.

Roughly half the municipalities in Cumberland County rely solely on State Police, including South Middleton Township where the local State Police barracks is located.

In addition to South Middleton Township, municipalities in the county covered by state police are Newburg Borough and Cooke, Dickinson, Hopewell, Lower Frankford, Lower Mifflin, Monroe, North Newton, Penn, Shippensburg, South Newton, Southampton, Upper Frankford and West Pennsboro townships.

Fund question

Fee proponents argue that municipalities without their own police departments receive more State Police services than those with police departments, and that the expansion of the role of State Police as de facto police department for so many jurisdictions is causing State Police to dip into funds meant for repair and maintenance of roads.

“Pennsylvania State Police provides support and services to every municipality in the commonwealth, whether or not they have a full-time or part-time police department,” State Police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski said.

This includes support with major case investigation, crash reconstruction, aerial support and forensic services, Tarkowski said.

There is reason to believe that jurisdictions without police departments receive more or at least different services from State Police.

Tarkowski said State Police are legislatively mandated to act as the police department for municipalities in the state without local police departments.

Case data

The Sentinel reviewed all criminal cases filed in Cumberland County in 2018 and found Pennsylvania State Police were more than five times more likely to file criminal charges in municipalities that had no police department than they were in municipalities with their own police.

To put it another way, nearly 70 percent of all criminal cases filed by State Police in 2018 in Cumberland County originated in municipalities without police departments, but less than 30 percent of the county’s residents live in those areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nearly a quarter of all criminal cases filed by State Police in Cumberland County last year originated in South Middleton Township (15,000 people), the largest municipality in the county without its own police department.

More criminal cases were filed by State Police in South Middleton Township and Shippensburg Township together than were filed in the 17 municipalities in the county with local police departments combined.

If the state were to adopt the fee, South Middleton Township Supervisor Tom Faley told The Sentinel in February it “would be a significant tax” on township residents. Faley said the expected fee would be about $125 per resident and would generate more than $1.6 million.

The township does not have a real estate tax and largely relies on fees from things like real estate transfers and development fees and an earned income tax to fund government operations.

Fewer arrests

There is a trade-off for municipalities that rely on State Police. Those municipalities have fewer arrests and criminal cases than municipalities with local police departments.

Municipalities with local police departments had about 70 percent more criminal cases filed in 2018 than those without, according The Sentinel’s analysis.

Municipalities without a local police actually had a smaller percentage of criminal cases filed with a lead charge graded as a felony — considered a more serious offense — than those with their own police department, The Sentinel found.

“We always say that we have the manpower and the resources in place to answer the call when it’s needed, but there’s no denying that there’s going to be a different level of service based on whether or not a municipality has their own department or relies on State Police,” Tarkowski said. “I can’t sit here and say that response times or responsiveness are going to be the same between State Police and a local department. It’s just the facts.”

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Email Joshua Vaughn at jvaughn@cumberlink.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Sentinel_Vaughn.

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