Decision on state police barracks pending

By on May 16, 2012

By: NOELLE BARRETT Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

The fate of the Ephrata state police barracks remains unknown after a joint state House Judiciary Committee and Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing Monday. State police Commissioner Frank Noonan said a decision to close the law enforcement outpost would be made within a month.

As part of the proposed troop realignment of state police, Noonan suggested eliminating the Ephrata barracks, which patrols Elizabeth, Caernarvon, Brecknock, and the northern part of Salisburg townships. Those areas would be covered by Lancaster station.

"(Ephrata station) has lost over 50 percent of the geographic coverage area that they were responsible for, and that has resulted in a drop in more than 50 percent of the incidence," said Lt. Colonel George Bivens, deputy commissioner of operations for the state police. "The bottom line is we now have a station that is greatly overstaffed," he said.

According to calculations that have been done of the area covered by the Ephrata barracks, the workload can be covered by a minimum of eight to 10 troopers, said Bivens. Currently, there are 26 people working at the station, including 18 troopers, five supervisors and three civilian staff members.

The hearing held at the Family Center of Gap has left some government officials concerned, particularly about response time. Bivens said that because troopers should be patrolling, not at the station waiting for calls, response time wouldn’t be affected by the closure of Ephrata barracks. Noonan added that public safety would not be impacted.

"I disagree with Commissioner Noonan’s contention that there will be no public safety loss with the removal with Ephrata station," said State Rep. Gordon Denlinger. "Ephrata station has a huge impact on public safety. I remain fully committed to fighting the preservation of the station. It’s my hope we can see a reversal of his position," he said.

Denlinger has received calls and letters from residents and from members of the law enforcement community, but concerned citizens and officials will have to wait even longer for a decision in regards to Lancaster station’s status as a headquarters until the state budget is more clearly defined.

The $187 million set aside in the budget for the state police would need to increase by an estimated $20 million for Troop J to remain a headquarters, said Noonan. According to the realignment plan, the headquarters would be moved to Troop L in Reading.

"Every trooper performs important work and contributes significantly to the overall safety of our communities and the quality of life your constituents have come to expect," said State Police Fire Marshal Brian Herr in his testimony. "The elimination of Troop J headquarters in Lancaster County cannot be good for effective policing, no matter how it is spun," he said.

What came as a surprise to officials was the announcement by Noonan that specialized units, including fire marshals, accident reconstruction units, drug investigators and forensic services would remain in Lancaster.

"There’s no intent to change [the specialized functions] now or in the future, unless the demands change," said Noonan.

Initially, the proposed realignment meant specialized units based in Lancaster would move to Philadelphia or Reading. Much of the testimony by local officials was based on the possibility of the specialized units being moved, and some were skeptical about future plans.

"I am concerned that [moving Troop J headquarters] would eventually lead to changes in Lancaster and a loss of the other resources and a loss of the specialty services," said Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman. "If you make it a substation, it’s going to be a substation," he said.

State Sen. Lloyd Smucker said he shares concerns and frustrations regarding a lack of communication with the realignment plan.

"Each time the answer in regards to what happens to these special units is different, and today is the first time that I heard all the special units would remain in place, completely different than what was said before," said Smucker. "I’m not sure there is a detailed plan. If there is, it certainly hasn’t been shared with us," he said.

If specialized units are moved, officials say many issues will arise, including compromised investigations.

"If the (fire marshal) positions are moved to Troop L or K, this would require an additional hour to two hours in response times," said Herr.

Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin said this would impact volunteer firefighters. If it takes too long for a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal to arrive at the scene, volunteers might leave the scene of an extinguished fire, said Martin.

Some officials were not made aware of the realignment plan or the potential changes by the state police.

"I’m disappointed that I was not provided an opportunity to give any input whatsoever," said Stedman. "These decisions that are going to be made are going to have a real life impact on the real life people of Lancaster County," he said. More STATE POLICE, page A14

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