The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 22, 2013

Forest Hills group rethinks regional police

— Although the plan was abandoned six years ago, the Forest Hills Regional Alliance has begun to re-examine the feasibility of a consolidated, regional police force that would serve all its member boroughs.

“We had a meeting (Wednesday) night and it seems we’ve got a bit of traction now,” said David Knepper, executive director for the alliance. “Municipal officials have expressed interest in moving forward.”

Knepper said he already has started laying the “blueprints” for the project, but with an awareness of the financial concerns that stunted the plan last time.

“The biggest hurdle is trying to convince municipal governments that this is financially feasible to do,” he said. “(But), how do you put a price tag on public safety?”

The four departments coming together are Summerhill Township, South Fork Borough, Croyle Township and Adams Township, the largest of the four.

“This gives more officers on the ground here 24/7, which they don’t have, except for Adams Township,” Knepper said.

Although an entirely new budget would need to be drafted, Knepper said the consolidation could be complete as early as this year, making it the 34th regional police force in Pennsylvania.

Kirk Moss, Adams Township police chief, opted at Wednesday’s meeting to become a consulting adviser to the new task force. He also shares Knepper’s feeling that the timing is right for united law enforcement.

“I truly believe the last time they looked at it, they were looking at it only from a financial standpoint,” Moss said.

“(But), you’re paying for that professional availability. If that large crime does occur, we’ll be capable of handling it.

“That’s truly the purpose of regionalization,” he said.

Moss was eager to point out that area school districts were regionalized in the early 1960s. The sewer system was consolidated in the early 1980s.

“Regionalization just makes sense,” said Knepper.

“We think it’s more effective, more efficient and will provide better protection and service for our residents.”

Aside from more patrols regularly policing the streets, Knepper said the plan also could allow for more investigations by plainclothes officers and new detective divisions. Discrepancies or miscommunication in jurisdiction ranges would also become moot.

“It’s a concentrated effort on the general populace,” Moss said.

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