To Protect & Serve “By Agreement”: Legal Considerations for Municipal Police Services Contracts
By Sean Fields
Due to the rising cost of providing local government services including law enforcement, many municipalities have sought to consolidate such services by entering into joint agreements to provide police coverage. Some of the reasons for this include increases in the expense of operating a police department for a single township or borough. These rising costs include payroll, health insurance and pension contributions. Additionally, the burden on local taxpayers may undermine the long term financial viability of maintaining a police department that serves a single municipality.
The legal authority for consolidation of police departments is supported by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Act1, the Pennsylvania Borough Code2, the First Class Township Code3, and the Second Class Township Code4. There are two common approaches to the consolidation of police services. One approach is a regional model based on unifying existing police departments into a single regional department. Under this approach, the police department is governed by a board and commission, with a regional board appointing the police chief, setting policy, and adopting a budget. Another option for a municipality without a police department or a department that is being disbanded, is to enter into a contract with a neighboring municipality to provide coverage.
General Contract Terms
Prior to entering into a police services contract, a municipality should identify the type of police coverage the municipality desires. For example, does the municipality require 24 hour coverage, 7 days a week, or a lower level of coverage? Other factors that should be addressed include the duration of the agreement, the costs of the services, and the termination of the agreement. The contract should also clearly provide for reporting requirements and communication between municipalities. For example, the contract might require the police chief from the department providing services to give a report at municipal meetings and provide regular notification to municipal officials regarding serious criminal incidents or major accidents. The contract should also provide for the appointment of a representative from the municipality being served to bring any concerns to the attention of the municipality providing the services.
Labor & Employment Issues
At some point in the negotiation of a police services contract, the parties will need to address labor and employment issues related to the police officers. Those issues include compensation, fringe benefits, rank and seniority. This is specifically relevant when any current police officers who will be affected by the contract are members of a union. If that is the case, the municipalities should engage in negotiations with the affected officers in order to address the effects of a proposed police services contract and reduce the likelihood of the filing of a labor grievance or unfair labor practice claim under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act.
Disbanding an Existing Department
If a municipality is electing to disband a police department there will be a number of steps that will need to be taken in order to “wind down” the operation of that police department. Those steps include but are not limited to the disposal of, or selling of equipment, discontinuing existing vendor contracts, and the storage or disposal of evidence and police records in accordance with legal requirements.
While the consolidation of police services through an intergovernmental contract may be the best option for a municipality to provide police coverage for citizens, municipalities should exercise due diligence by carefully negotiating the terms of a contract with the advice of a solicitor or other qualified counsel.
The purpose of this article is to provide general information regarding important aspects of municipal police services agreements. The secondary sources for this article included publications made available by the Pa. Governor’s Center for Local Government Services including Regional Police Services in Pennsylvania: A Manual for Local Government Officials, and Administering Police Services in Small Communities: A Manual for Local Government Officials.