Gilberton to abolish police force
MAHANOY PLANE - Gilberton Borough Council voted Thursday to begin abolishing its police department.
The move is exactly one week after a settlement agreement was signed between the borough and former police Chief Mark Kessler, who was the only police officer on the force at the time, though he had been suspended since July 31. The agreement states Kessler is "separated from his employment and voluntarily retired."
Since the suspension of Kessler, the Pennsylvania State Police has provided police enforcement.
Kessler was not mentioned during the meeting.
The idea to abolish the police department was raised by Mayor Mary Lou Hannon.
Borough solicitor Karen Domalakes said abolishing a police force requires an ordinance, but the borough is not required to close the force just because there are no officers.
"I don't think you have to abolish it," she said. "You can let it lie for as long as you would like to. If you do abolish it, other than obviously advertising the ordinance to rescind the original ordinance, there are other steps in the process."
A major step is to inform the county district attorney and state police about the borough's intentions.
"We need to notify the district attorney and the state police we're doing that, not just for coverage," said Domalakes. "We would tell them they have the opportunity to come in and examine the police files, the computer, any evidence locker we would have, to see if there is any follow-up they would want to do."
Domalakes said that once the ordinance is passed, a notice would be forwarded to the Fraternal Order of Police for its information.
"Lastly, we would do an inventory of the property that the police force would have owned," said Domalakes. "As for putting it up for sale, any property over $1,000 would have to be advertised."
She said the $1,000 limit would not be a factor if the property, such as the police car, was sold to another municipality, and if so, payments over time could be negotiated.
"I think you would want to have a very good contract in accepting payments because that asset will be decreasing in value," said Domalakes. "Municipalities are good for their payments."
Hannon suggested the police car be sold for $5,000, noting that interest in the vehicle has come from Frackville and Girardville.
Councilman Lloyd George asked if abolishing the police department will save the borough money, or if it would be better just to leave the department as is. Domalakes said the borough would save on insurance coverage, such as with workers compensation, errors and omissions, and liability.
"Right now, I think it's the best thing we can do," said Hannon.
Council President Daniel Malloy asked for a motion to abolish the department, with the motion made by Susan Schmerfeld and seconded by Eric Boxer. The vote was unanimous to advertise the ordinance.
Council also approved Hannon's recommendation to allow negotiations to sell the police car, with Hannon given permission to speak to interested municipalities.
Domalakes said if a deal is reached, it could be voted on at the March meeting. The other municipality agreeing to the sale would also have its borough council approve the transaction.
Hannon said that she will conduct an inventory of police items, such as radios and a bulletproof vest.