Police problems prompt screaming fit by Fo r w a r d supervisor

By ERIC SLAGLE Daily News Staff Writer


Tensions are rising in Forward Township as supervisors continue to consider disbanding the community’s police department.

At a meeting Thursday, board of supervisors chairman Tom DeRosa went into a screaming fit after he had two residents removed from the meeting by police after they questioned him on police issues.

“I’m here trying to help you people. I didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to get rid of the police,’” he yelled. “We have a disruptive police force!” DeRosa claimed part of his rage was directed at the residents he had thrown out of the meeting because of their comments. Howard Fleming suggested DeRosa made police fix tickets in the past, so officers are writing fewer tickets now in protest. The woman removed from the meeting, who only identified herself as Michelle, called DeRosa a foul name as she was being escorted from the building.

“People call me a thief. I’m not going to tolerate this nonsense anymore,” screamed DeRosa, who, during the rant, said he’s saved the township money while he’s been in office.

He also ran through a list



of his complaints about officers in the police department.

DeRosa has said police have lost and broken equipment, are abusing worker’s compensation, have failed to show up at court hearings and refused to provide supervisors with a key to the station.

Supervisors also claim officers have all but quit writing speeding tickets. Where in the past the department issued approximately 100 tickets a month, nowadays officers write about 10. In July, police wrote eight speeding tickets.

Complaints against the department came to light at a meeting last month. The board has told the police union it will disband the force rather than renew its contract at the end of the year if their concerns are not addressed.

Resident Debbie Kustron, who was attending her first supervisors meeting, told DeRosa, “As far as I’m concerned, you’re a very angry person,” adding, “you should maybe have a tempera ment class.” Resident Melisa Jones, also attending her first meeting, said, “You’ve got a lot of people who are concerned about (the police situation).” Jones suggested supervisors, police and the union get a mediator to help iron out their differences. Supervisors didn’t appear to be open to the idea.

Police Officer-in-Charge Robert Curdie said his fellow township officers and their union, Teamsters Local 205, “are all on the same page as far as getting a contract”








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and ready to sit down with supervisors.

There also was an exchange between DeRosa and police Sgt. Glenn Fine concerning Fine’s attendance at the meeting.

DeRosa claimed Fine was only there because of the recent turmoil.

“My job is at stake. My livelihood is at stake,” Fine responded. “Is there a problem that I showed up tonight?” DeRosa at one point said the problems with police began after former chief Tom Staley retired in 2009 and Curdie was put in charge.

Supervisor Tom Headley said the department and supervisors clashed in the 1990s as well, but there had been a period of relative calm while Staley was chief.

If the department were to disband, supervisors said state police would be responsible for maintaining peace in Forward at no cost to the township.

Headley cited Hempfield and Unity townships in Westmoreland County as large communities that rely on state police in lieu of a local force.

DeRosa said the department costs the township



about $450,000 annually.

Township solicitor Bernie Schneider said supervisors currently have no control over the department and that’s a dangerous thing.

“This is a country in which the military answers to a civilian hierarchy,” he said, noting the police are a quasi-military institution. When the military refuses to answer to civilian authority, he said, there is a problem.

“This police department is a danger to Forward Township,” Schneider said.

Schneider later said that when supervisors sought a key to the station, police “turned us in to the district attorney.” Still, supervisors said they will keep the local police — if the officers comply with their expectations.

“They have a choice,” DeRosa said. “But we’re not paying for a police department that does not work.” Forward Township supervisors in 2009 rejected a feasibility study that could have resulted in a multicommunity police force serving Forward, Elizabeth Township, Elizabeth and West Elizabeth. At the time, DeRosa said that in addition to costing the township more, a regional force would result in the township having fewer police officers on duty within its borders and having less control over its department.








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