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Valley Past
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2017-05-24

Editor's note: This article is part of the Town and Country's "Valley Past" collection.  Originally published on January 25, 2001, it offers a nostalgic look at the first three meetings of the officials charged with forming the regional police effort.  With the last meeting of the Upper Perkiomen Police Commission held on May 22, 2017, we'll take a look at how it started.

 

          Have you heard the one about the Republican and the Democrat?  It seems there was a Republican Mayor in East Greenville and a Democratic Mayor in Pennsburg who were trying to guide the direction of police service in the two towns.

          Stop me if you heard this!  The law says that one of the primary duties of the Mayor is to be in charge of the police department.  Unless, it is a regional department like the Upper Perk Police District.  In that case, the police department is administered by an appointed Police Commission. 

          Usually that group elects a Chairman to act as the leader of that body.  In Upper Perk, the Commission is currently made up of the Mayors and two members from each Borough Council. 

          Getting back to my tale, each of the borough mayors had held public office for less than 10 years.  When it came time to pick the Chairman, the Republican Mayor and his borough contingent from East Greenville yielded to the Democratic Mayor in light of his experience, and elected him to chair the Commission.  Now, let's look in on their first meeting in 1973.

          On a motion, seconded and passed it was agreed to pay the department secretary $3.00 per hour.  It was also agreed that an equal amount of $2,500.00 per month ($30,000 annually) would be paid by each borough to fund the department's expenses.  They also agreed to establish a petty cash fund of $100.00.  With the stipulation that no one item purchased would cost more than $25.00.  Anything costing more than that would require a purchase order signed by the Chairman.  The meeting lasted 55 minutes.  Hmmm.  Can that be right?  Lets take a look at the next meeting....

          The Commission agreed to have the police cars cleaned inside and out every other week at a cost of $3.00 each.  The Commission Treasurer discussed insurance policies, and the Chairman discussed work schedules.  The Chairman wanted the police officers to spend some time on 'foot' patrol and mingle with the people of the towns.  The Police Chief mentioned that 'the local folks are generally not friendly with the police and he would like to change this image of coldness.'  The Chief was authorized to design a new parking ticket for both Boroughs.  The meeting lasted 1 hour.  Let me try one more time with the next monthly meeting....

          Meeting called to order, etc., etc.  Chief reports that federal funds may be available to the district.  Ah! Here we go!  The Mayor questioned the Police Chief on the amount of extra hours he and the other police officers are putting in.  The Chief indicated that a number of the ... men have shown a great deal of interest in their jobs and are serving additional unpaid hours!  The meeting lasted 45 minutes.

          All right, by now you've remembered that you're reading Valley Past and I'm talking of days gone by.  I'm also talking about two of the finest leaders the area has ever known. 

          The year was 1973, and East Greenville Mayor Roland Spaar and Pennsburg Mayor James Mullen set aside their Mayoral rights granted to them by the Pennsylvania Borough Code, and along with their respective Council Presidents Jacques Kline and Clarence Bechtel, became the administrating body of the East Greenville-Pennsburg Police Department. 

          The concept of a regional police department was very new at the time, and the local attempt at it was only the second in the entire Commonwealth!  Oh yes, each borough had their own department prior to the merger.  But a common desire to provide better service coupled with acknowledged weaknesses in the individual departments brought these players together. 

          They brought the department strengths to the table and left their weakness by the door.  Cars, guns, uniforms, typewriters, and paperclips.  There was no bickering about the value of the inventories each town contributed.  Any police equipment owned by the individual boroughs became the property of the newly formed regional service. 

          In terms of significance to the community, some proclaimed that the formation of the two-borough force was second only to the creation of the local unified school district. 

          A reporter once wrote that "Prior to the formation of the East-Greenville-Pennsburg police force, the Upper Perkiomen Valley was a fragmented, non-harmonious place.  For years residents of the boroughs maintained a rivalry that prevented joint projects or efficient actions."

          Times change and people change.  With no disrespect intended, it sometimes helps to invoke the memory of others to help guide us today.  A police department is no different. 

          See you next week. 


 

 

 

 

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