“We have heard you. And we are moving in that direction,” Laceyville Borough Council member Henry Laboranti (above) told residents at the most recent council meeting in regards to re-establishing a police force. To increase accountability, he said that the cruiser will have a dash cam, and the new officer will wear a body cam.
By Rick Hiduk
(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)
Judging by those who have attended and voiced their opinions at Laceyville Borough meetings over the past few months, the majority of residents in the town want their police force back. As support mounts, so does confidence among the council members that they can find a suitable candidate and make room for it in next year’s budget.
Vandalism and assumed drug trafficking are the primary concerns, but speeding on borough streets was also addressed. Townsfolk and council members alike seem to be in agreement that a part time officer won’t do, but striking a deal with a neighboring municipality would help defray the costs. But, until such an agreement is reached, council member Henry Laboranti cautioned, there may be limits as to what problems can be addressed and where.
“I do want a town cop,” said Jason Robinson of Franklin Street, the first to speak up on the matter at the Oct. 1 council meeting. Melissa Kunkle of Main Street was also in attendance for an update on a police department. “We have a lot of issues,” she remarked. The signs marking the closure of the bridge on Franklin Street have been spray painted, as have some sidewalks, she and Robinson noted.
It is a group of older teenagers moving through town that has caught the most attention and created the bulk of the concern. “You lose sight of them when they go down to the river,” Cheryl VanDeMark related. “I don’t mind neighbor kids using my yard for access, but I’m seeing strangers.”
Kunkle indicated that someone has set up a tent behind Vern’s Feeds as a place to hang out. State Police had visited the site and dismantled it, but “everything was put back nice and neat. It’s a nice place to access the river.”
“That is Braintrim Township, and we would have no jurisdiction there,” Laboranti stated. “If we do have a cop, we’d need an arrangement with Braintrim to be able to do something about that.”
In addition to Cheryl and Donnie VanDeMark, attendees Carl Gowin and Colin and Tootsie Grose also stated that they were very much in favor of a police force.
Laboranti and acting mayor Randy Brigham reported that they have interviewed two candidates for the job and were impressed by both of them. “They are both very qualified,” said Laboranti, noting that one has more years of experience, but their service records are equally important to the hiring process. “I think we are heading in a good direction.”
Personality matters too, Laboranti maintained, noting the borough is looking for someone who can engage well with both adults and youths. Council will be vetting the applicants and checking their references in the coming weeks.
Mrs. VanDeMark asked if the new person would work full- or part-time, to which Laboranti replied, “We can’t label it.”
“It would be ‘as needed’ coverage,” council chairperson Kristi Fassett stated.
“Are you taking into account how far away they live?” asked Kunkle.
“Yes,” Laboranti replied. “We are asking them, if they get a call at 2 am, can we know for sure that they will respond.” There are some benefits, he noted, to having an officer who doesn’t actually reside in the town so that personal relationships don’t get in the way of professional judgment.
Brigham suggested that there will be more interviews before a decision is made to hire someone, but he was encouraged by the first two.
Laboranti assured those in attendance that there will be a more concerted effort for accountability than there had been with previous officers, noting that any new hire would be wearing a body cam, and the cruiser would be equipped with a dash cam.
As for funding the new department, he remarked, the “golden ticket” would be contracting with another municipality. “That’s our hope if we get the right person.”
In the meantime, the borough is looking into purchasing or acquiring a number of surveillance cameras to place in some of the noted trouble spots. It was determined that the installation of the cameras would not be advertised nor will their locations be disclosed.