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Montgomery County borough considering disbanding police department due to budget shortfall

Jenkintown residents pack meeting to discuss future of borough police department
Jenkintown residents pack meeting to discuss future of borough police department 02:33

JENKINTOWN, Pa. (CBS) - Jenkintown Borough officials said they were considering several options to deal with a budget shortfall, including possibly disbanding its police force.

Their first meeting to allow residents the opportunity to share concerns and learn more about options considered by the borough was Wednesday evening.

It was packed to capacity. The crowd spilled out the doors and into the hallway, and many watched the livestream on Facebook when they couldn't get inside.

"I love our police department. There is no one like our police department," one resident said in public comment. 

Earlier in the day, Dan Katz, owner of West Avenue Grille in Jenkintown, said there were plenty of times he has had to call police. 

The Katz family has owned the restaurant for more than 20 years. He is worried about the borough possibly disbanding its police force. He said he's happy with the service he is currently getting from Jenkintown police.

"They are always quick," he said. "They're always here, and they really care about the businesses and making sure they're safe."

Katz worries his customers, workers and neighbors would face longer response times if the department disbands. So, he wants to know: Will it?

"So, I would say the answer to that is unknown at this point," Jenkintown Mayor Gabriel Lerman said.

The borough posted a notice on Facebook indicating a $600,000 budget shortfall for the department. Lerman said business tax revenue was still recovering from COVID-19-era closures.

"We've lost some businesses from the borough that we don't expect will ever come back in the future," Lerman said.

Lerman also said the police department is facing higher expenses.

"A lot of those extra expenses are related to personnel costs, health care, pension, things like that," Lerman said.

Jenkintown Police Chief Tom Scott said the borough cannot keep raising taxes on residents. He said one option may be to get coverage from Abington Township, whose leaders would not comment on this issue.

Scott said he was not worried about response times if outsourcing becomes necessary.

"Abington surrounds the borough of Jenkintown on three sides," Scott said. "Abington police officers drive through the borough consistently, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year." 

Scott adds if that happens, the department will help all of its 11 officers find new jobs.

That is not good enough for Katz, who sees the officers as neighbors.

Jenkintown leaders mull disbanding police department due to budget shortfall 02:13

"You know, they have families at home," Katz said. "This is their life, and to take that from them is something that is very disappointing to hear."

His father, Bob Katz, used to own the restaurant and said he loves the police coverage the borough currently offers.

"Right now with Jenkintown," Bob Katz said, "I know if we have an emergency, we push a button, they're here in a couple minutes. I mean, the guys are great."

Employee Keith Greene was worried about safety at home if the borough changed police departments.

"The police are right around the corner from my house, less than two minutes away," Greene said. "I feel safe. Any incident I might have, I know I get a fast response."

Customer Ken Fishman, who has lived in Jenkintown for nearly 40 years, was worried residents would lose a critical connection to its officers.

"They do a great job, you know? And, they're fair and everything," Fishman said. "And when we need them, they've always been there. I like our own police department, because we are our own borough."

Jenkintown Police Benevolent Association President Anthony Matteo said his organization is disheartened by the idea. He said this could be a life-changing event for the 10 full-time officers and their families. The job is their primary income. 

"We chose Jenkintown to make a career, not a pit stop. We care for the community that we've been tasked to provide service to. They deserve the service that they have grown to love," Matteo said.

Residents say they are trying to figure this out together.

"We are very fortunate that we live in a safe town, and I think we all just want to keep it that way," one resident said.

There will be a second community meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. at Jenkintown High School Auditorium, 325 Highland Ave.

Jenkintown residents, business owners worry about possibly losing police department 02:24
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