Lawmakers Concerned by State Police Manpower Issues

Manpower issues are creeping up on the Pennsylvania State Police and concerns are spreading under the state capitol dome.  “It’s not that we might be, Pennsylvania is on the verge of a public safety crisis,” Pennsylvania State Troopers Association President Joe Kovel told a panel of lawmakers this week. 

The Senate Law & Justice and House Judiciary Committees convened a joint hearing on the decreasing number of State Police troopers. 

With some 1,000 troopers becoming eligible to retire, sparse cadet classes haven’t kept pace in recent years.  State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan estimates they’ll be 465-troopers below compliment by June 2013. 

In the meantime, Commissioner Noonan’s top priority is keeping troopers on the road.  “In order to get troopers on the road, we would have to reduce our administrative manpower needs,” Commissioner Noonan told the joint committee, “and the one way to do that is to close stations.” 

Noonan says station consolidation isn’t ideal, but it may be necessary depending on how the retirement situation unfolds. 

Sen. John Pippy (R-Allegheny), who chairs the Law & Justice Committee, plans to follow up with Noonan and Governor Tom Corbett.  “I truly see, if nothing changes, we will be in that scenario where we’re going to be down 800 or 900 women.  Not too far away,” he says. 

The budget plan Governor Corbett rolled out in February allocates nearly $8-million dollars for a new class of 115-cadets this year.  The State Police Academy can handle up to 350 cadets in a year, and Joe  Kovel tells lawmakers that’s what they need.

PSP Commissioner Addresses Vacancies, Cadet Class

The governor’s proposed budget includes $8-million dollars to pay for 115 new State Police cadets.  Even with the new troopers, PSP faces a projected 500 vacancies by the end of June 2013.  At Thursday’s Senate Appropriations Committee, Tina Tartaglione (D-Phila.) asked PSP Commissioner Frank Noonan if he is worried they are being spread too thin.  “I am concerned,” Noonan responded.  “But I do believe we will be able to fulfill our mission.  We will fulfill our mission.”

While attrition is eating away at their compliment, Noonan stressed to lawmakers that his top priority is putting troopers on the road, which means PSP’s ever-growing list of auxiliary duties may bear the brunt of staff shortages. 

Frank Noonan

State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan

“These numbers, and as the numbers go down, it’s going to require us to do some things that are going to be individually sometimes unpopular,” Noonan said.  “We may be thinking of station consolidations.”   But Noonan told the panel that a thorough review would be conducted before any decisions are made. 

Per Governor Tom Corbett’s request, Noonan is leading a comprehensive review of all PSP operations to ensure that resources are being used effectively.  Aside from the new cadet class, PSP is slated for a zero-growth budget that must address nearly $29-million dollars in increased pension and health care costs.

New Crime Stoppers Website Goes Live

The Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers website is getting a high-tech makeover.  PA Crime Stoppers teamed up with state police and Crime Watch Pennsylvania to create a new web portal that allows visitors to view more up-to-date information on fugitives and unsolved crimes in their area – then easily share that info through social media.  “The benefit to us is basically helping law enforcement get more criminals off the street and solve unsolved cases, and cold cases that will be featured on our website,” says Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers Coordinator Kira Lemmons. 

The new technology also allows Crime Stoppers to instantaneously send information to their website, Facebook, Twitter and registered users.  “From there, they can go ahead and share it with their friends, individuals and businesses,” says Lemmons.  “It would basically help to solve the cases.”

Registered users are able to customize the information they receive to focus on an area as small or large as they would like.  In addition to the new look for, mobile phone apps are on the way. 

PA Crime Stoppers

State Trooper Remembers Flight 93 Crash Site

He called family while racing to Shanksville in a code 3 emergency response, not knowing if he would ever speak to them again.  State Police Cpl. Ronald Zona was among the first people on the hallowed ground of the Flight 93 crash site.  “I arrived at the crash site and I expected to see pieces of the jet or other evidence that a commercial jet had just crashed their moments earlier.  However there was barely any sign that a plane had crashed,” Zona recalls.  It took several minutes to soak in.

After cordoning off the debris field, Zona and his fellow troopers spent hours cut off from the outside world.  Their next human contact came in the form of FBI agents, who were covered head-to-toe in hazmat suits.  The state troopers had no way of knowing whether they were safe in their short sleeve uniforms.

This weekend, Zona will remember the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93.  “They were the heroes because they knew what was going on in the world, and they decided on that day they were going to take the action that was necessary – whether they died or not – to stop the terrorists from completing their mission.”

Zona, a lifelong law enforcement officer, is assigned to Troop A in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.  He addressed a special 9/11 commemoration at the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) state lodge in Harrisburg this week.  Phase I of the Flight 93 National Memorial is being dedicated this weekend in Somerset County.  As you can see above, the impact zone is now marked with a boulder.

Remembering Fallen Officers from 9/11

An honor guard stood watch over 72 American flags that had been placed in front of the Fraternal Order of Police state lodge.  That’s one flag for every police officer who died in the line of duty on September 11th, 2001.  “9/11 was the deadliest day in law enforcement history, but it was also a day in which innumerable law enforcement officers showed unparalleled courage and bravery,” president of the PA FOP Les Neri said at a Wednesday remembrance ceremony.

State and local police from throughout the state gathered to remember the actions of the heroic police officers who assisted in the rescue efforts in New York, Washington and Somerset County PA.  Neri says all were fully aware of the risk they were taking, but they went anyway.  “This was not the first time they risked their lives, but unfortunately for 72-heroic officers it was their last.”

Neri says the memorial of 72 American flags at the PA FOP headquarters is a small tribute to honor the memory of those officers.  He hopes it can serve as a reminder that Pennsylvania can never forget the actions and sacrifice made by those 72 officers at a time when the nation needed them the most.

Among the officials attending Wednesday’s ceremony was Corporal Ronald Zona with Troop A of the Pennsylvania State Police in Greensburg, Westmoreland County.  Zona was one of the first people on the scene when Flight 93 crashed into a Shanksville field ten years ago.  Check back to hear Zona’s first-hand account later in the week.

Pennsylvania State Police Investigate More Crashes, Fewer Fatalities This Memorial Day Weekend

Pennsylvania State Police handled more crash investigations this Memorial Day Weekend than last but there were fewer fatalities.  13 people were killed in the 808 crashes investigated by State Police over the holiday weekend, compared to 16 deaths in 776 crashes during the 2010 Memorial Day weekend. Five of those killed were not wearing seatbelts one fatal crash was alcohol-related.    Last year, none of the 16 victims wore a seatbelt and two of the fatal crashes were alcohol-related.

While the number of fatalities this year was below the 2010 Memorial Day holiday, it was still higher than the 2009 holiday weekend, when nine people died in crashes investigated by state troopers. In addition, a total of 83 accidents this Memorial Day weekend are believed to be alcohol-related, compared to 70 last Memorial Day weekend.

State Police spokesman Jack Lewis says troopers arrested 357 motorists for driving under the influence; issued 7,934 speeding citations; cited 708 individuals for not wearing seat belts; and issued 115 citations to motorists for not securing children in child safety seats. The special enforcement period did not end with the holiday weekend. State Troopers are still in the midst of a Click it or Ticket campaign. They’ll be paying special attention to see if drivers are following the seatbelt law and children are properly restrained through June 5th.