The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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April 19, 2008

Municipalities feud over police backup

GARRETT — Last month, Garrett Borough Officer Tom Keller said he was conducting undercover surveillance inside Hostetler’s Tavern when a patron began waving an 8-inch knife.

Keller said he initially called an on-duty officer from neighboring Summit Township for assistance, but was told Summit police are prohibited from helping.

Instead, Keller said he had to delay the man outside after the bar closed, waiting for state police to arrive from Somerset.

Once the man found out Keller was a police officer, he allegedly became violent and had to be pepper-sprayed.

Along with the knife, Keller said police found cocaine in the man’s possession.

“If I could have had additional officers from neighboring departments, I feel that situation never would have happened,” said Keller, also the police chief in Confluence.

Summit and Meyersdale police have stopped providing backup for routine calls in Garrett, saying they are concerned about Keller’s tactics.

In October, Garrett hired Keller as its lone part-time officer after ending a contract for coverage from Summit Township.

Summit Township Chief Nathan Claycomb said his department will assist Garrett in life-threatening situations, but not on other calls.

By conducting undercover surveillance in bars in a hometown where he is well known, Keller is placing himself and potentially other officers in dangerous situations, Claycomb said.

“This guy’s made the bed he’s laying in from some of the cowboying he’s done,” Claycomb said. “We’re not going to put ourselves in the middle of some thunderstorm we have no business being involved in the first place.”

Bill Forrest, chairman of Meyersdale Borough Council’s police committee, said Meyersdale officers will respond if a Garrett officer is in imminent danger.

He declined further comment.

Meyersdale Chief Dave Hollern could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

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