Macungie Council on Monday began to examine the amount of police coverage in the borough after it was revealed that Mayor Rick Hoffman had directed Police Chief Edward Harry not to schedule part-time officers to cover regular shifts.
The directive also said no full-time officers could be paid overtime to cover regular shifts left suddenly unfilled due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances.
Harry has covered up to six extra shifts in the past several weeks himself -- at no charge to the borough -- to make sure that has not happened. Indeed, Harry said, there has never been a time that a Macungie police officer was not on duty in the seven years he has been chief.
Former Macungie council member Dorothy Kociuba said the 2012 budget, called for "24/7" police coverage but she was not sure that what the residents thought they were paying for was necessarily the case.
"So if a part-time officer is not available when someone calls in sick," she said to the mayor, "You do not allow the chief to get a regular officer to cover the shift," she asked the mayor who said yes, that's the case.
"So people don't know if there are no police on duty," Kociuba asked, setting off an uproar among the residents in attendance.
Hoffman responded that as long as nobody has the information that there is a shift that's not filled here and there, nobody's the wiser and the borough is as safe as ever.
The budget stated that Chief Harry could schedule part-time officers to bridge the gap that would allow for the complete coverage. A sixth full-time police officer was taken out of the budget.
Several council members said Pennsylvania State Police at Fogelsville and the Emmaus and Alburtis police departments would provide back up when there is no officer on duty.
But jurisdictional regulations say that if there is no officer on duty in Macungie, police from Emmaus and Alburtis may not come into Macungie unasked just to help out, Harry said.
Chief Harry clarified the issue by saying that there must be a Macungie officer on duty for aid from neighbors to occur. A Macungie officer would not have to be in the borough as there are times police are out of the borough on police business at the hospital, district justice office or Lehigh County Court.
In those cases Macungie would be eligible to received neighboring aid because one of its own would be on duty.
However, if there is no officer on duty, the borough is at the mercy of state police proximity if there is an emergency.
Residents went wild.
After Council President Jean Nagle restored order, Mayor Hoffman and Chief Harry agreed to meet with Solicitor Patrick Armstrong to reexamine the mayor's mandate that 25 shifts per week only would be filled.
Harry said the budget allowed for 33 shifts to be filled, but that he had been managing to schedule 24/7 coverage using 30 shifts per week. He was "banking" three shifts a week in case there comes a time when extra police coverage is needed as it usually is during the annual car shows and Halloween Parade, for example.
Council members agreed to come to the next meeting, to be held at 7:30 p.m June 4, with their ideas for more complete coverage, as well.
The mayor also agreed that Harry should schedule 24/7 coverage by whatever means necessary until the June 4 meeting, and that Harry should not cover the shifts himself.