To the Editor: The Mount Carmel/Shamokin area isn't the same culture it was when I grew up there. There's a growing heroin epidemic (has been for some time now), and the reports of increased personal violence, street crimes and aggravated assaults are now commonplace. The reality of it all means there needs to be more police officers out on the streets to adequately respond to those elements. Right now, there are not enough of them, period. Their numbers are razor-thin and alarmingly unsafe for them personally. But in spite of it, I salute every one of them for doing a commendable job every day.

I was shocked when there was a move recently to reduce the staffing of the Shamokin Police Department by laying off several officers. Any politician who dares mention balancing a budget by eliminating police officers these days should be recalled by an outraged citizenry, then tarred and feathered. Thankfully, the new administration in Shamokin clearly saw the stupidity of it and righted that wrong almost immediately.

Being a retired Philadelphia police officer, I know full well the importance of adequate staffing of patrol officers, and can say unequivocally from firsthand experience that hard-core drug-related crimes involving heroin, along with the alarming number of aggravated assaults, significantly increase the odds of police officers getting hurt if there are not enough of them to do the job right. There's a bottom line cost of doing things correctly when it involves public safety, and it requires resources - people and money.

If a commercial business isn't staffed and funded correctly, it will fail. Conversely, if a police department isn't staffed and funded correctly, people can wind up getting seriously injured and even killed. Therefore, adequate police staffing with the officers' personal safety in mind and that of the public are paramount. Like it or not, admit reality or not, the facts are clear to me that junkies like those I arrested in the badlands of North Philadelphia are now meandering up and down Oak Street in Mount Carmel and Independence Street in Shamokin.

There was mention of regional consolidation of police departments and that's certainly an avenue that needs to be explored, but there's so much hierarchal detail involved with an undertaking like that, it would likely get bogged down in a quagmire of politics and cause delay after delay, and have the well-intended idea become a waste of everyone's time and money if not done right. In the meantime, the towns need to get a grip on reality and hire more qualified police officers now to support what's already in place if they're serious about keeping this alarming crime rate in check and their police officers safe, even though it would increase taxes to do it.

Another thing, dependence on mutual aid should not be considered a safeguard to augment unsafe numbers of police officers patrolling in their own jurisdictions when seconds and minutes could mean the difference between life and death. Although well-intended years ago, that mindset is a thing of the past and must change to meet today's challenges. Did anybody ever think what might happen in a crisis if there was no mutual aid available?

Taxes are a touchy subject with politicians and taxpayers alike, but, let's face it, we're not living in Mayberry either. The towns need more police officers, and it's going to cost money if the communities are serious about meeting today's public safety challenges and protecting the police officers out there doing the thankless job that most people couldn't do.

Michael J. McCarthy