Jenkintown police union rejects any plan to dissolve borough’s police department

Borough officials are weighing the idea of contracting with neighboring townships like Abington or Cheltenham to reduce costs.

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A sign for Jenkintown Borough

Jenkintown in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. (Borough of Jenkintown)

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The Jenkintown Police Benevolent Association (JPBA), which represents the borough’s 10 full-time officers in ongoing contract negotiations, is opposing any consideration to dissolve the Jenkintown Police Department.

Borough officials have embraced the idea of contracting with neighboring townships like Abington or Cheltenham as a more cost-effective alternative.

JPBA President Anthony Matteo said the union believes there will be a human cost if the borough chooses to ax its department to save dollars.

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“The membership’s concerns are the 10 members of the police department and their families that will be impacted by shutting down a police department that’s been around for over 130 years,” Matteo said.

He said Jenkintown is equipped with veteran officers who know how to police a small town.

“We’ve created a department that’s been around, and it’s familiar with the problems of Jenkintown and the faces of our residents. You’re not going to get that with anybody else,” Matteo said. “It’s not going to happen.”

The small borough of 4,000 residents spends over 50% of its $5 million budget on policing, a price tag borough officials believe overburdens taxpayers. Residents of the half-square-mile borough have the second-highest school taxes and the sixth-highest municipal taxes in Montgomery County. Jenkintown officials have pointed to these facts as justification to seek alternatives.

“The highest part of any budget is going to be the police department,” Matteo said. “It’s just the reality of the situation. If you want policing in your town, it’s going to be the biggest part of a budget — that goes for a township as big as Abington to as small as Rockledge. That’s just the fact of life.”

Matteo said to save money, the borough could bring on more part-time officers to fill costly overtime shifts.

Jenkintown Borough Council President Jay Conners said if the department is ever dissolved — a situation he deemed a “hypothetical” — the borough would not ignore its officers and their families.

“We would by all means do everything we would do to take care of them. How that would look — I don’t really know, but we would look at severance packages and things like that,” Conners said.

Abington’s position on Jenkintown’s proposal is unclear; Cheltenham ‘does not have a stance at this time’

The union asserts talks of dissolving the department have been front and center during contract negotiations. JPBA provided a letter to WHYY News from the Abington Township Police Association (ATPA).

According to the letter, which is dated Feb. 2, Abington Township Manager Richard Manfredi met with Jenkintown once last summer in which he was “informed that they would be discussing the announcement of the Abington Police Department assuming police services for Jenkintown Borough.”

Informal conversations never evolved beyond that. The Abington police union spoke with Manfredi on Jan. 29 and passed along the details to its Jenkintown counterpart.

“Mr. Manfredi related to us that he was not interested in that proposal,” the letter read. “He also told us that all prior discussions occurred at the police department level. At no time did he, or the Abington Township Board of Commissioners, discuss any merger, overtaking, or contracted police services to Jenkintown Borough.”

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ATPA advised Manfredi “that the ATPA would see that as a change in work conditions, if in fact, our bargaining unit members were made to do that.”

Manfredi told WHYY News that the Abington Township Board of Commissioners and his office are “not in discussions with Jenkintown regarding our providing police services.” He said he relayed the same message to Abington’s police union. Manfredi said the township does not have a perspective on police consolidation or mergers.

“We are solely focused on providing excellence in service to the Abington Township residents and taxpayers,” Manfredi said.

In a statement to WHYY News, Cheltenham Township Public Information Officer Lauren Walter said the township “does not have a stance at this time.”

She said Jenkintown has not contacted the township, and officials have yet to review the situation.

Jenkintown officials schedule community feedback meetings, released 2020 audit of police department

Pitching changes to police services is often a hard sell. Jenkintown Council President Conners reiterated that conversations regarding the disbandment of the department never evolved to the point of formal discussions.

Jenkintown officials are inviting the community to attend an upcoming Committee Workshop Meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Borough Hall to ask questions and convey concerns about the state of the borough’s public safety system.

“We’re prepared to stay there as long as we have to to answer those questions and concerns,” Conners said.

The borough has also scheduled a community meeting for Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Jenkintown High School auditorium.

“We have another meeting on Wednesday [Feb. 28], which is a regular Borough Council meeting. We are going to present the community with a slideshow presentation, our chief [Thomas] Scott will do most of the heavy lifting on that and he will go through the presentation of where we are [and] what we want to be,” Conners said.

Jenkintown officials contracted with W.R. Smeal Police Management Consultant to review the police department in 2020. According to the borough, the report provided 90 recommendations to address operations and management within the department.

The borough released a nearly unredacted Smeal Report shortly after publication. However, a Montgomery County judge previously compelled the borough to release a heavily redacted iteration of the report in 2021 in response to a rejected open records request.

Conners said the report will offer residents a bird’s-eye view.

“We want the community to be involved, and we’re not going to make any kind of decision that would affect us in a way where we had less services for more money. We’re looking to get more services which we believe could be better at less money. That’s where we want to end up.”

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