Police welfare: All Pa. towns should pay for their own coverage

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It's a wonder that all of Pennsylvania's municipalities haven't abolished their police departments. They're getting ripped off by keeping them.

According to a study completed in October for The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Police provides full- or part-time coverage to 67 percent of the state's 2,562 towns. They pay nothing extra to the state for the service. According to state Rep. Michael Sturla, a Lancaster County Democrat, that means 21 percent of the state population doesn't pay for police patrols while the other 79 percent pays twice -- in the form of both local and state taxes.

That's not fair.

It's also surprising that the state police has no idea how much it spends to provide those patrols.

Mr. Sturla plans to attack both problems with legislation he intends to introduce soon.

He would require municipalities using state police services to pay a yearly fee for the privilege; he is considering a per capita charge of $156 if they have full-time state coverage and $52 per capita for part-time service.

The dollars may not be quite right, but he has the right idea for figuring that out as well. He would have the state police commissioner calculate the per capita costs associated with the patrols. By Mr. Sturla's estimate, half of the state police budget goes toward providing routine coverage to towns that don't pay for the privilege.

Neither the governor's budget office nor the state police has any figures to rebut the claim. The department doesn't track the costs. Its spokeswoman said it can break down the costs based on each station or troop within it, but figuring out how much the municipal patrols cost would require computing how much time every officer on every shift spends on various tasks, such as patrolling an interstate or traveling to the individual communities. Administrative costs associated with the patrols aren't broken out either.

In a climate of tight budgeting, state officials should have a better idea of how much they're spending on services, and the state should have a way of recouping the costs. Mr. Sturla's idea deserves support.

It's time for mooching municipalities to get off the state dole and cover their own police costs.



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