First annual police report highlights success

By on March 27, 2013

By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

It seems hard to believe that it has been just over a year since the Northern Lancaster County Regional Police Department came into existence, merging the police forces from Warwick, Clay and Penn townships into one department. Now, the first ever annual report for that new force has been issued, and Warwick Township officials are impressed.

"We were extremely pleased with the report," Supervisors Chairman Logan Myers. He described it as professional and concise, addressing all aspects of policing in the community, as well as the administrative elements of the department. "Very was comprehensive."

"I know the board of supervisors were very pleased with the professional service and dedication provided by Chief Steffen and every member of the NLCRPD in our first year," said township manager Dan Zimmerman. "It takes a tremendous amount of effort to get a new organization up and running. We are also very pleased with our two municipal partners, Clay and Penn Township. The whole effort has exceeded our expectations."

Findings from the first report were made public during the March 20 supervisors meeting. Police Chief David Steffen provided in-depth details of a busy, productive year in which the new force cleared a number of key hurdles.

"This report culminates a year of agency growth and change," Steffen said. "It also details the many actions that were required to provide the foundation of a newly formed police department designed to meet the needs of a dynamic and high quality of life community. The creation of a new primary law enforcement agency is a team effort that requires a multi-disciplinary approach to organization building and both individual and agency development."

Steffen credited the three local municipalities for their support during the first year.

"The governing municipalities have been important and crucial to our success," he said. "Our model is unlike any other regional force in the state. Throughout the year we have made it a priority to meet with township managers frequently."

Throughout the course of this first year, Steffen said the new department focused on creating a new subculture and shifting attitudes. He credited a relatively flat organizational structure for helping the process move forward.

"We are nimble; we did what needed to be done and made the corrections necessary," he continued. "I’m very pleased with the outcome."

Steffen reminded supervisors of the mountain-sized list of things that needed to be done, from the adoption of the new charter, to hiring the chief, designing new uniforms and vehicles, to consolidating daily management and negotiating a new long-term contract with officers, all taking place since late in 2011. In addition, a police policy guide was drafted and adopted, the records management system was designed, and the agency implemented "real time" remote reporting systems. Training was reviewed and updated, outdated weapons were replaced and new, "less lethal" force techniques were adopted among the long list of things accomplished during year one.

"Looking back, I am amazed at how well the officers adjusted to the process," said Steffen. "More importantly was the development of the new subcultures. In a short period of time, some went from the definition of complacency to now we have eliminated that. Today we are focused toward achievement and working as a team. We are looking at career development and training."

Steffen said that this force has undergone more training in the past year than some might have undergone in the past 10 years.

"If we fail to train, we train to fail," he said.

Steffen also pointed out the importance of cost containment, and of working within the police force’s business model and budget. One such avenue for cost containment and service improvement has included the implementation of technology on board each police cruiser which enables officers to send and receive a much broader range of critical information. In addition, reports can be completed and filed right from the cruiser, increasing the amount of time officers can be in the field and reducing the down time that used to be required at the office for the same purposes. In the near future, Steffen said the cruisers will each be outfitted with special printers, meaning that costs could be further contained by printing official police paperwork as needed rather than having to purchase inventories of pre-printed forms. The on-board technology also allows greater use of a unified data base and better tracking and protection of evidence.

Myers feels strong response times for more serious crimes like thefts and felonies validates the decision to adopt regional policing in the township.

"I was very pleased with response times on major crimes, thefts and felony as opposed to maybe a dog barking," he said. "That was a bit of an unknown when we discussed regionalization as a board two years ago."

There was a concern that covering three municipalities instead of one could have a negative impact response times, but last week’s report seems to put that concern at ease.

Roughly 32,000 residents live within the three municipalities. During the first year, patrol zones were established to reduce travel time and improve response times. As a result, a median response time of 14.11 minutes was reported. An average of 19,203.5 miles per month were driven by officers.

"We want to make sure citizens get the same level of service as before," said Myers. "To see those numbers, I think we’ve achieved that."

Warwick Township makes up roughly 45 percent of that population of 32,000 residents, with Penn Township comprising 41 percent and Clay Township 14 percent. Of the total incidents reported, 46 percent were in Warwick, 32 percent in Penn and 22 percent in Clay. For non-traffic summary offenses, the numbers were similar — 46 percent for Warwick Township, 36 percent for Penn Township and 18 percent for Clay Township.

Throughout the first year, NLCRPD reported 1,021 traffic citations, 534 crash reports and 102 non-traffic situations. One hundred and fifty-four misdemeanor arrests were made, 55 felony arrests, and another 8,342 incident reports were completed for a total of 13,818 total activities reported. Four hundred and thirty-one "Part I offenses" were reported, of which 107, or 24.82 percent, were cleared. Six hundred and seventy-two "Part II offenses" were reported of which 176, or 26.19 percent, were cleared.

Steffen said the national average for clearance rates is between 13 and 17 percent.

"Where we are is about where we should be," he said.

With regard to the distribution of police activity per municipality, he urged township leaders not to get too concerned, stating that over time things seem to level out and reflect the population distribution. He pointed to the increased police activity in Clay Township in relation to the home invasion investigation which would drive up that township’s share in the short term, but that over time things fall into balance. One township may be higher one month and lower the next.

Steffen also pointed to the department’s webpage as a dynamic part of police work well done. He said the site is continuously updated with information from traffic and weather conditions, to missing persons, special alerts and vital police information.

The NLCRPD 2013 budget is $3,618,151. Warwick Township’s share is $1,505,093, which represents 39.5 percent of the overall township budget for the year.

The complete 2012 report has been posted for public review on that webpage at www.nlcrpd.org. More WARWICK TWP., page A14