A narrow vote during City Council’s Thursday meeting secured new radios for the Williamsport Bureau of Police, the end of a long battle to replace the now 15-year-old equipment. It also highlighted some of the city’s limitations in upgrading or modernizing police equipment over the years.
While the bureau has been asking for new radios for nearly five years, finding over $470,000 in the city budget to pay for them was often the largest obstacle.
Thursday evening’s vote allocated the funds from the $25.5 million of the American Rescue Plan Act awarded to the city for COVID revitalization. According to Mayor Derek Slaughter, issues of public safety fall within the scope of the federal funds allowing it to be used to purchase the radios.
The resolution passed with a 4-3 vote. Councilmembers Randall Allison, Jon Mackey, David Banks and Vincent Pulizzi voted to approve. Council members Liz Miele, Bonnie Katz and Adam Yoder voted against. This came just after a motion to table the vote failed with Miele, Katz and Yoder voting to table and Pulizzi, Banks, Mackey and Allison voting no.
While it seemed as though the full body of council was in favor of the new radios, the debate over the vote came down to the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds for the purchase.
“I want to make sure that we are planning to use the funds appropriately,” Miele said, adding she wanted to make sure the funds didn’t get used up too quickly, before a full plan was created.
Mackey and Pulizzi, both former law enforcement officers, were heavy proponents of funding the radio purchase immediately, saying that the lives of officers and members of the public relies on reliable communication.
“This is a public safety issue,” Mackey said. “I think we all agree that this is a legitimate purchase to be made, let’s not wait any longer.”
“This is something that I just can’t justify in my mind tabling and taking a gamble with not only our law enforcement officers but also the livelihood of our citizens in the city,” Pulizzi said.
Banks and Allison also agreed that the purchase was important and that a solid plan had been created for the funds, with $1 million already being dedicated to public safety and this would be used from that allotment.
Police Chief Justin Snyder said the current radios are just over 15 years old, technically reaching the end of their life expectancy after 10 years. He added that the radios are failing and in certain areas of the city, such as the Williamsport Area High School, making communication with officers difficult.
During a foot pursuit this week, city officers had trouble commuting while on a foot pursuit with a suspect.
“The biggest thing is the location,” Snyder said. “If an officer is in trouble, … you’ll hear officers where they have to say several times where they’re at, trying to get the location so we can respond.”
In addition to radios, the city also approved an emergency purchase of four new dodge durangos as well as upfitting the four cars for a total of nearly $186,000. According to Snyder, the cars were in dire condition, with one of them being decommissioned entirely.
The bureau also is working to purchase body cameras for the entire department, Snyder said. The cameras have been a high priority for the city for years and previous estimates put the cost of the cameras between $110,000 and $190,000.