Macungie Mayor Rick Hoffman’s quest to install GPS systems in borough police cars advanced a bit at last week’s Macungie Council meeting when the mayor asked council to commit to paying for the second two years of the devices’ three-year binding contracts.
The GPS units will allow authorized personnel – limited to the police chief and himself, the mayor said – to view officers’ locations, the speed of their cars and the length of time they spend at a location.
"It’s a good management tool,” the mayor said.
The units will cost $295 per year plus some maintenance fees to run in each of the three borough vehicles, he said, which comes to about $1,100 per year. Hoffman asked Macungie Council to pay $2,200.
At his first mention of installing the units several weeks ago, the mayor said the units would be paid for by donations, and what was not covered by donations he would pay for himself.
“I was only speaking about the first year,” he said in a phone interview days ago.
Council member Chris Becker said at the Feb. 21 council meeting that he was not comfortable approving the plan because only one company’s units and plans were under consideration.
Becker called for at least three quotes, and the mayor agreed to get them even though the quote from Hauppauge, NY-based Advanced Testing Technologies, Inc. was the best the mayor said he had seen.
Tim Romig of Upper Milford Township, owner of Automotive Service Solutions in the borough, challenged the mayor’s request that borough residents pay for this tracking system, especially in light of the recent budget struggle.
Romig directed a question to Council Member Linn Walker, “Didn’t the mayor say he would personally pay for whatever part of the cost is not covered by donations?" suggesting there was no such first-year proviso mentioned originally.
“Yes he did,” Walker said.
Romig also brought up the possibility of waiting for a GPS system Lehigh County currently is testing.
The mayor said he didn’t know much about the system and furthermore didn’t want to wait for it.
However, the county system would not be the same as the one the mayor has in mind, said Laurie Bailey, Lehigh County 911 director.
If there were an incident in which an officer or a back-up is needed, the county system would be able to see if there was a car in the area, perhaps closer to an incident than a car that would routinely have been assigned.
There is no back-up or real-time data collected with the county system, she said. It would show only where a car is, not how long it was at the location or how fast it was traveling.
The system Hoffman is proposing will let officers know that somebody is watching them, like a time clock, Bailey said.
Lehigh County Director of General Services Glenn Solt said the GPS could be a good tool in a rural community where officer safety is a concern.
“If there’s an officer in a ravine and can’t call, this is a tool to check the welfare, which is standard operating procedure,” Solt said, “Anything can happen.”
But having that information can also put an officer in danger if it falls into the wrong hands, said Macungie Police Chief Edward Harry Jr.
Harry is not opposed to the new system as long as the delivery of the information is secure, he said.
Hoffman has neither consulted with Harry on the system nor even officially notified Harry that the system will be installed.
“I haven’t talked to the chief because he’s not receptive,” Hoffman said, “There’s nothing to negotiate.”