Public, fellow officers speak up for Shamokin police
SHAMOKIN - The first hour of Monday's Shamokin City Council special meeting was filled with comments from citizens, fellow police officers and officers from other municipalities all standing in support of the police department.
In all, about 20 people spoke, hoping to change council's mind about furloughing officers. Initially, the plan was to furlough four full-time officers and the city's two special officers, cutting the force in half.
In the end, a third of the force was cut: full-time officers Cpl. Jarrod Scandle and Patrolman Nate Rhodes and special officers Robert Searls and Norm Lukoskie were laid off. Street department worker Ronald Kerstetter also lost his job.
Outside of city hall, law enforcement officers and members of the public cheered while the ranks of the Shamokin Police force walked through the crowd and made their way to council chambers. With a seating capacity of 64 people, many members of the public were, at first, left outside while all police officers were let in first to have their say.
Later, officers from other departments left the room allowing more members of the public to speak during the public comment session.
The first to speak was Matt Dillman, a Mount Carmel Borough police officer and the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge that represents the department.
"Furloughs would devastate not only the families of the officers, but of everyone you see behind me," Dillman said.
Dillman said losing the officers will turn Shamokin "into a Wilkes-Barre" with crime running rampant. He said that if there are layoffs, there will be "an increase and a decrease." The increase will be in more crime. The decrease will be in drug enforcement and response time when an officer is needed.
"We don't live in a fictional town of Mayberry where there are only two officers needed," Dillman said.
The next to speak was Shamokin Police Patrolman William Zalinski, whose name was initially on the chopping block.
"Since 2007, three officers retired who haven't been replaced, but the number of calls haven't gone down," Zalinski said. "To cut us any further, it would be physically impossible to have 24-hour protection."
The board heard impassioned pleas from residents, including Lia Zerbe, a pregnant woman who choked up when speaking to council.
"If it wasn't for one of the officers standing here, my life and the lives of my children would be at stake," Zerbe said. "You are putting me, my three daughters, my unborn daughters and my husband at risk."
Northumberland County Coroner James Kelley was also there, speaking on behalf of family he has in the city.
"This room is packed, it's packed outside, because we are here for these men. I work with all these men to know what kind of guys they are. If you take away half of the force, it is going to severely damage the city of Shamokin," Kelley said.
The final plea came from Esther and Elmer Shinskie, the grandparents of Jarrod Scandle.
"I'm 83 and my husband is 88 years old and if you take them off the street, I'm going to be scared to death to live on the street I'm on," Esther Shinskie said.
"You don't realize how good of a police department you have here. They are doing a helluva job," Elmer Shinskie said.