Mt Pocono Mayor Raises COVID Concerns Over PMRPD Meetings
POCONO SUMMIT – Mount Pocono Mayor Michael Christopher Penn twice challenged Pocono Mountain Regional Police Chief Chris Wagner during the January regular meeting of the police commissioners.
When Wagner asked for the adoption of a policy relating to the disposal of electronic media, Penn said the language in Wagner’s proposal was vague. The Chief told the Commissioners that the policy came from the US Department of Justice. The commissioners then voted to adopt the policy.
Near the end of the meeting, Penn complained about the lack of COVID compliance at the meetings, noting that the commissioners were not six feet apart and that “not everyone wears a mask”. He asked to consider going to virtual meetings. Coolbaugh commissioner Tony Lamantia mentioned that he had lost a family member to COVID in 2019 and was also uncomfortable with in-person meetings.
Wagner said that he would look into using a call-in system for commissioners reluctant to attend in person. He said that he follows the state practice with the meetings and noted the low public turnout.
There were 21 people at the meeting, including six non-commission/staff attendees. The meeting room is approximately 30 wide and 45 to 60 feet long. Under state COVID mitigation rules, indoor events and gatherings, including meetings, are limited to ten percent of room capacity for venues with a capacity below 2,000.
The state guidelines dictate that “room capacity” is calculated at 67 people per 1,000 square feet. If the commission meeting room has approximately 1,800 square feet, it has a total capacity of 121 people under the state guidelines. At the ten percent restriction, compliance with state guidelines suggests that no more than 12 persons, including commission and staff, should be at the meeting.
Prior to the regular meeting, the commissioners held their reorganization. David Moyer, commissioner from Tobyhanna Township, was returned as chair. The commission then voted to retain the prior slate of officers. Fran DiPiano (Tunkhannock), as Vice-Chair, Claudette Williams (Mount Pocono), Secretary, Kurt Cummings (Coolbaugh), Treasurer.
The commission also reappointed Carbondale attorney Harry Coleman as solicitor and the Pittsburgh law firm Campbell Durrant PC as labor council.
Wagner reported on the year-end statistics. Barrett Township ended 2020 having used less than one hour above their contracted allotment. Coolbaugh had 60 additional hours. Tunkhannock was 261 hours under their allotment.
Early in 2020, Mount Pocono reduced the hours of police coverage by about 3½ hours a week. Tobyhanna Township picked up those hours. Wagner reported that Mount Pocono ended up using 491 more hours than called for under the reduced contract. That’s about 9½ hours a week. Tobyhanna Township, the beneficiary of Mount Pocono’s cutting of police coverage, ended the year with 290 fewer hours used than contracted.
The Chief reported that, for the most part, serious crimes were at or near four-year lows in 2020. He attributed this to the COVID-related mitigation orders reducing the opportunity for criminal activity.
The one exception was homicides. With a dozen alleged homicides in the year, 2020 marked a four-year high. Wagner said this was due to the decision of the county district attorney to seek homicide charges when drug sales resulted in death. “This is the opioid crisis,” the chief told the commissioners.
The commission learned Officer Nathaniel Edmonds resigned in December to accept an appointment to the Pennsylvania State Police Academy.
Happily, the chief noted that all of the COVID-positive officers and quarantined officers are recovered, COVID-negative, and back at work.
The commissioners authorized the department to begin its 2021-2022 hiring process, which the chief said he expected to result in two hirings, in addition to the one currently open position. They have ten applicants who have been ranked and three contingent offers have been extended.
Wagner reported that the “no-shave November” fundraiser among the officers was designated to benefit a local child with cancer, and the department had received a heart-felt letter of gratitude from the family.
Commissioners approved bills totaling $334,377.50.
The commission meets in the basement of the regional police building at 7 pm on the second Tuesday of each month. The next meeting is scheduled for February 9.