LEHMAN TWP. — An increase in criminal activity inspired a Back Mountain municipality to re-establish its 24-hour police force.
For 13 years, Lehman Township maintained part-time police protection, utilizing the Pennsylvania State Police for off-hour coverage. But as criminal activity seeped into the rural community, township supervisors agreed a full-time police force would better serve residents.
“The State Police did a fine job, but it is time to handle it (criminal activity) on our own,” said Lehman Township Police Sgt. Mark Liparela.
To prove a need existed for 24-hour police coverage, Lehman Police Chief Howard Kocher and Liparela began logging all third-shift police and emergency calls in 2013.
“About two years ago, I asked the chief if I could start a log on missed third-shift police calls,” Liparela said.
Kocher and Liparela continued to compile data regarding after-hour police calls. Their records showed an increase in police calls pertaining to vehicle break-ins, middle of the night DUI crashes and reported drug activities.
The calls were going to the State Police, who would respond if they could, he said.
“The State Police were busy, too,” Liparela said and noted a State Police officer could receive multiple calls at any given moment.
“The State Police have a wide area to cover,” said Lehman Twp. Supervisor Raymond Iwanowski.
“There were times when volunteer fire and emergency management services personnel were out (at accident scenes) by themselves with no police coverage,” Liparela said.
In 2015, Liparela approached township supervisors with a request to allow him to add third shift coverage three days a week from May 1 to Labor Day and log the police calls during this time.
“The supervisors are very pro-community,” he said.
The results during the three-month period revealed faster police response time, Liparela said.
Kocher and Liparela presented township supervisors with their data and asked them to consider implementing a full-time police force.
In November 2015, supervisors announced a slight property tax increase from 1.45 to 1.75 mills for 2016 would help fund the 24-hour police force. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property. The cost to residents breaks down to 11 cents a day or $3.25 a month, Alvin Cragle, township treasurer said.
Supervisors also promoted Lehman Township Police Officer Harold Cain to full-time status.
The Lehman Township Police Department has three full-time and six part-time officers and four police cruisers, Liparela said.
“We are very confident in our police force and their ability,” Iwanowski said.
The trade-off of higher property taxes for 24-hour local police coverage is one township resident Robin Rogers is willing to make.
“You know from what is reported in the news there is more crime in the Back Mountain,” Rogers said. “We have a fairly large community and need a full-time police force to keep an eye on things.”
Lehman business owner Danielle Mimms of Big Ten Subs & Pizza said she never realized the police department was part-time.
“They were always here if we needed them,” Mimms said.
“I think it is a good idea,” township resident Jerry Shilanski said of the full-time police coverage. “There is drug activity around here.”
Reach Eileen Godin at 570-991-6387 or on Twitter @TLNews.