Report: Dauphin County police merger saves money for most

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – A study of possible police merger options in Dauphin County shows most consolidation plans would save millions in taxpayer money.

You can view the entire report here: Dauphin County Police Services Study

On Tuesday, local government and police officials unveiled the results of a nearly year-long study, outlining seven possible options for merging the county’s 17 police agencies into one, or several small departments. While supporters of consolidation had previously expressed a belief that combining police manpower and equipment under one department would result in cost savings, the findings were even more favorable than expected.

“Actually, a little more than I thought,” says Ed Marsico, Dauphin County District Attorney. Marsico, who led a task force on the issue and commissioned the study from the independent Police Executive Research Forum last year, tells ABC27 the study sends a strong message. “The cost savings are more significant than I thought. In an ideal world, I think we’d move to something like a county wide police department. But I think to be realistic, we have to look at a smaller scale, some other options and maybe go from there.”

Among the findings in the report, is that most merger options in the greater Harrisburg/Hershey area and its surrounding boroughs and townships would save between 9 and 39% over combined current police costs, when fully implemented. However, a merger of several small police departments in northern Dauphin County, would significantly raise costs for residents in areas such as Halifax, Lykens, Millersburg and Wiconisco Township. In the lower section of the county, residents of Royalton would also see increased cost under any merger plan, as their current part-time police force would become full-time.

Each plan outlined in the report would also likely include up to several million dollars in startup costs, to cover expenses such as altering uniforms, police vehicle decals and updating building infrastructure. However, officials say grants from a PA Department of Community and Economic Development program could ease those costs for municipalities.

Another meeting to discuss the findings and public comment on the report will be scheduled soon. A decision on which merger options to pursue, if any, could happen before the end of the year, according to a county spokesperson.

The options for consolidation include:

OPTION 1: Dauphin Metropolitan Police. This merger would include twelve regional police departments surrounding Harrisburg, but would not include the Harrisburg City Police Department. Merged departments would include Derry Township, Highspire, Hummelstown, Lower Paxton Township, Lower Swatara Township, Middletown, Paxtang, Penbrook, Royalton, Steelton, Susquehanna Township and Swatara Township. Estimated annual cost savings would exceed $15,000,000 for a 39% savings over current costs.

OPTION 2: Harrisburg Metropolitan Police: This merger would include all of the police departments in Option 1, with the addition of Harrisburg City Police. Estimated annual cost savings would exceed $18,000,000 for a 33% cost savings over current costs.

OPTION 3: Southwest Dauphin Merger: This merger would include Highspire, Hummelstown, Lower Swatara Township, Middletown, Paxtang, Royalton and Steelton. Estimated annual cost savings would exceed $4,000,000 for 26% savings over current costs.

OPTION 4: Southern Dauphin Regional Police. This merger would include all of the police departments in Option 3, but not include Hummelstown or Paxtang. Estimated annual cost savings would exceed $675,000 for 9% savings over current costs.

OPTION 5: Derry Regional Police. This option would merge Hummelstown Police into Derry Township under a contract agreement. Estimated annual cost savings would exceed $2,000,000 for a 32% savings over current costs.

OPTION 6: Northern Regional Police Department. This is the one option that raises costs for all involved. The merger between the Halifax, Lykens, Millersburg and Wiconisco Township Police Departments would result in better coverage for this rural section of the county, but would result in an estimated 363% increase in costs, or about $1.6 million dollars more per year.

OPTION 7: County-wide Police Department. This option is a favorite of many officials involved, but may be off the table due to the increased costs for the northern region of the county. It would merge all 17 of Dauphin County’s police departments into a single force, with regional branches to maintain a level of officer familiarity and community policing. The total estimated cost savings would be approximately $16,000,000, for a 29% annual savings over current police costs.