Recent experiences in Spring Township, Snyder County, and Hartleton in Union County indicate how hard it is to sustain integrity when it comes to right-sizing police departments in small rural communities.
It is not as if nothing ever happens that requires police attention. There is simply not the degree of interaction among residents to occupy officer all the time or else there are specific times when there is too much simultaneous interaction for a single or part-time officer to handle.
With fewer resources, there are challenges figuring out how to have police on duty when you need them or doing something productive for the community when you don't.
In Spring Township, this came to light as a pattern of customer complaints about how motorists were being treated by the community's lone part-time officer during traffic stops.
To overcome an irreconcilable he said/he said situation with these incidents, the township equipped the patrol car with $5,000 in video and audio monitoring equipment. When the technology went on the blink, the township suspended the police department in May, prompting one resident to wonder, "Why should we have a police officer that needs to be baby sat?"
In Hartleton, the borough is still trying to unravel a situation where the police chief was accused of using traffic stops along the state highway through town to gin up donations to the community playground. Officers there were instructed to offer motorists an opportunity to get out of a traffic ticket by making a $150 donation to the recreation fund.
These situations -- one involving personnel management, the other an apparent deviation from proper procedure -- track back to inadequate oversight and supervision. To one degree or another, it helps all of us sustain productivity, integrity and propriety on the job if we are, in the words of the citizen spectator, being "baby sat" a bit, by bosses, customers or colleagues.
Because a just society often starts with the cop on the beat, the models we see in the merged Buffalo Valley Regional Police Department in Union County and in Middleburg's contracted-out police services to neighboring community in Snyder County seem to overcome these inherent issues of scale in law enforcement.
Every community is going to have neighborly disagreements, domestic friction or worse, requiring an officer of the peace. For our smaller towns, the problems, and the solutions, seem near at hand.