LIBERTY - Township police will receive reinforcements in the coming years to what has been a dwindling department.
Trustees voted unanimously this week to put in place a volunteer reserve police officer program, with the first starting Jan. 1, 2013.
"We are going to swear the first person in, and our goal is to hire four or five as the year progresses," administrator Pat Ungaro explained on Wednesday. "It's not going to cost the township any money, and the hirings are all going to come from the civil service list."
Trustee Jodi Stoyak said the township only has to provide liability insurance for the volunteer officers, whereas a full-time, regular officer would start between $40,000 and $50,000.
"The new hirings are going to even pay for their own uniforms and equipment," she said.
Police Chief Richard Tisone said this has been in the works for decades.
"I'm really pleased, obviously," Tisone said. "This is something we've been trying to put together for 20 years and we finally got a board that is for the idea. Once we got the administrator and members of the F.O.P. on board, we knew it was something we could implement."
Liberty police has seen the department shrink from 24 officers five years ago to just 16 now. According to Ungaro, this program will go a long way in helping to make up for the loss in staff.
"The budget now as compared to five years ago hasn't changed, but the police salaries have gone up each year, which means having 16 officers now costs roughly the same as having 24 officers five years ago," Ungaro said. "There have not been cuts to the police as in having to let guys go, but when we have had guys retire or move on to different jobs, we haven't been able to fill their positions."
Financial issues reached a head in Liberty in December 2009 when a combination of salary raises going into effect and cuts from the state created a problem with the police budget.
"We had an audit reflecting that issue," Stoyak said. "We were out of money in our police department and we had to shift money around from the general fund just to make payroll. Otherwise, we would have had to lay off police and no one wanted to do that."
Through those lessons learned, the trustees have become more thrifty in both pay increases and hiring.
"Until we can get more money and fill paid positions, this reserve staff is a good reinforcement for our department," Ungaro said. "Money dictates how many policemen you can have. What hiring these volunteers will do is give us some extra security on the streets."
Among the key benefits the volunteer officer brings to the department according to Tisone is an ability to put more officers on the streets and added safety for police officers patrolling high-crime areas.
"This isn't a new concept in general," Tisone said. "It is just new for our community. The economics of it make sense for us and we hope to add more as the year goes on. Basically, anyone with the qualifications and a clean background can be considered for a position."