Bill Richards Front Lines

Shade Township police Chief Bill Richards is shown outside the police station in Cairnbrook in July 2020.

Shade Township has parked its police force.

Township police Chief Bill Richards said he was contacted after last week’s meeting that the board decided to lay off its force due to cost concerns.

“At this point, we’re all laid off,” said Richards, who has overseen the three-employee department for the past four years. “They told me it’s temporary. But they didn’t tell me when it will be over.”

The move means emergency calls from Shade Township and Central City, the community it patrolled until two weeks ago, will now be handled by Pennsylvania State Police, whose territory spans much of the more than 1,080-square-mile county.

State Police Public Information officer Stephen Limani said the barracks knows the area, given that they have been covering shifts Shade’s off-duty shifts for years.

“But we feel bad for the officers who lost their jobs,” he said.

Efforts to reach Shade Township’s supervisors about the decision were unsuccessful. Messages for comment were not returned Tuesday or Wednesday.

Shade Township laid off its force two weeks after a contract with Central City expired.

Central City Borough Council President Bob Sanzo said his community was paying $2,000 per month for coverage, but when Shade Township officials said the cost would need to double for the upcoming year, to $4,000, borough officials had to decline.

“We can’t afford that,” he said of the $48,000 annual cost. “Especially not for the part-time coverage we were receiving.”

Sanzo said workers compensation costs were apparently driving up Shade’s police budget and, to him, Central City would be paying its own share of the cost and part of the township’s, too.

Richards said he had no involvement in the township’s budget.

He oversaw the scheduling for himself and two part-time officers, who all worked different hours over the week.

One of his officers has spent the past three years with the department. The other has spent a decade there, Richards said.

He estimated the three of them combined patrolled the two community for 60 hours a week.

While that’s less than half of the hours in an entire week, it was enough to patrol those areas, have a regular presence on Shade-Central City’s campus and develop a strong rapport with the neighborhoods they serve.

That’s what Richards worries will be lost without a local force.

“State police do an excellent job. But they are covering more and more (territory) all of the time,” he said.

Without a local police department, Richards said he is concerned more residents will try to handle dangerous situations on their own.

“For Shade, I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” he said. “But I’m worried this is going to create more problems.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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