While crime and traffic accidents have been cut significantly in Doylestown and New Britain since the boroughs merged their police forces into the new Central Bucks Regional Police Department, police Chief James Donnelly is cautious in attributing the drop to the merger itself. Donnelly said some categories of crimes have been on the decline for a few years, but added that the regional department, which has been patrolling the municipalities since January, is working to keep both communities safer.
With 19 full-time and five part-time officers in the department, Donnelly said he can assign officers where they are needed the most. “With the joining of the forces, we get the opportunity to direct where an officer is going during a shift,” Donnelly said Thursday. “With directional patrolling, you can tell officers where to be at specific times. That seems to have an impact on crimes of opportunity.”
For example, statistics show that in recent years, burglaries in Doylestown ranged from a high of 38 in 2011 to a low of 16 in 2012. In the first six months of this year, the total was five. If that rate continues, the yearly total would be 10. Thefts in Doylestown in 2013 numbered 148, a decline from 2007 and 2008, when there were more than 200 reported in each year. In the first six months of this year, thefts numbered 39. In New Britain, the number of burglaries dropped from 10 in 2007 to three in 2013. This year, there were none in the first six months; but the number of thefts, which totaled 13 in 2013, already stands at eight in the first six months of this year. If the same rate occurred in the second six months, there would be 16 for the year, or a few more than last year.
Several towns including Plumstead, New Britain Township and Doylestown Township at first considered joining the regional force, but decided against doing so. New Britain Township, for one, explained that the cost of forming a regional police headquarters could top $5 million.
Doylestown and New Britain officials are considering several proposals for a regional police headquarters. Some Doylestown council members said they favor turning the PennDOT yard on Broad Street in Doylestown into a regional police headquarters when PennDOT moves to a new site in Plumstead. The costs of such a move are still being studied.
Donnelly thinks regionalization is “inevitable.” “Policing costs a lot of money. The state is looking to regionalize,” he said, noting there are approximately 1,500 police departments in Pennsylvania. “The majority are under 10 men. It’s not a very effective or efficient way to do it. We’re the only ones with boundaries. The bad guys don’t have boundaries. You can build task forces, (but) each chief is in charge of their own investigation. If it was a more coordinated effort, we could probably clear more crimes and stop more crimes.”
Since the merger, traffic accidents also are down in both Doylestown and New Britain this year. In Doylestown, 66 serious accidents — in which someone was hurt or a vehicle had to be towed — took place in 2013. This year, 24 serious accidents took place in the first six months. At that rate, there will be approximately 48 for the year. New Britain reported 27 serious accidents in both 2012 and 2013. This year, so far, six. Donnelly told the New Britain council Tuesday night that “traffic is going up but accidents are coming down,” as he pointed out that this results in fewer people injured, less property damaged, less time missed from work and less insurance costs.
The police have used three factors to help reduce crashes — enforcement, education and engineering, Donnelly said. “We have a lot of four-way stop signs,” the chief said.
Donnelly said that while some departments want to remain independent now, eventually he thinks it would benefit them to join the new regional force. Doylestown estimated its savings at $98,000 and New Britain, $33,000 before the merger took place.
Vandalism in New Britain occurred 13 times last year, while just two reports have been recorded in the first half of this year. There were 39 driving under the influence (DUI) charges last year and just three in the first half of this year. In Doylestown, the vandalism rate has been going down in recent years, from 156 incidents in 2011 to 97 in 2012, then 47 in 2013. This year, 16 incidents have occurred from Jan. 1 to June 30.
One sector of crime that has not declined dramatically is drug abuse. In 2013, there were 41 cases of drug abuse in Doylestown; this year, there have been 28 as of June 30. In New Britain, the news is better. There were 11 drug abuse cases last year, but only three in the first six months this year.
Central Bucks is at the crossroads to Philadelphia, Trenton, Allentown and Reading, where many drugs are sold, Donnelly said, so trafficking in this area is a factor. “They use our roads. We’re right in the middle.”
He would at least like to see all the towns in the Central Bucks School District having a single police force. “A lot of smaller departments can’t afford policing. The cost is going up … They could operate much more efficiently,” he said.Peg Quann: 215-345-3179; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @pegquann