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Elected officials from four Allegheny County communities gathered Monday to discuss possible plans for a regional police force, though some remained hesitant as to whether the move is what’s best for the boroughs.

Officials from Braddock, East Pittsburgh, North Braddock and Rankin spoke, for the most part, in support of a larger police department that would cover all four municipalities, as did Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

“I applaud them,” Fitzgerald said of the community leaders. “I think they deserve a lot of credit for being willing to do it. It’s good government. It improves public safety at a lower cost.”

A deal is far from done – only East Pittsburgh and Rankin councils have voted to move forward with a commission that would study the potential for a regional force.

The four boroughs combined have a population of under 11,000 and make up a total of just 3 square miles. East Pittsburgh has relied on the Pennsylvania State Police for coverage since late 2018 when leaders disbanded the police department.

East Pittsburgh Council President Mary Carol Kennedy said her borough is “anxious to move it forward.”

“We truly believe that this project will make a definite improvement for all of the residents in our four communities,” she said.

Allegheny County has 130 municipalities, many with their own police departments. Last year in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Cheswick and Springdale Township created their own regional police force: Allegheny Valley Regional Police.

The effort took more than a year and a half, and the department officially took over policing the municipalities in July 2019. The cost of the department’s $450,000 annual budget is split fairly evenly between the municipalities, and it’s less than the combined $672,000 they’d been spending on their respective departments.

A proposal for the regional force made up of Braddock, East Pittsburgh, North Braddock and Rankin lists a potential budget of just over $1.55 million, half of which would make up the salaries of the proposed force: a chief, a sergeant, 10 full-time officers and six part-time officers.

The proposal breaks down what portion of the budget each municipality would pay, with North Braddock carrying the largest share at 37%. Braddock’s proposed share would be 22%, East Pittsburgh’s would be 21% and Rankin’s would be 20%.

North Braddock Councilperson Lisa Franklin spoke in favor of moving toward a regional police department, telling naysayers to “not allow fear to dissuade you.”

“We know this is a beginning for all four of our boroughs to rise at the same time,” she said.

North Braddock Mayor Thomas Whyel, however, expressed trepidation, saying there are still many unanswered questions.

“How are we going to hire? Are we going to try to maintain the existing police officers that have been loyal to us?” he asked, noting that he does not want to see current officers pushed out of jobs.

Whyel said he worries that a regionalized approach would lessen police protection in the community.

“Public safety is what we do from a police department standpoint,” he said. “If this means minimizing protection, we have to do it another way.”

North Braddock currently has one full-time officer and 13 part-time officers – the most of any of the boroughs, according to a breakdown included in the regional proposal. There are no full-tine officers in Braddock, and there is one in Rankin. Braddock employs eight or nine part-time officers because of what Mayor Chardae Jones called a “revolving door of (part-time) police officers.” Similarly, Ranking has nine or 10 part-timers.

Rankin Council Vice President William Pfoff urged everyone to “be open-minded on it.”

“Nothing’s etched in stone,” he said. “It’s a movement in progress. That’s all we’re asking our communities to do: bear with us and we’ll come up with a workable plan for all four communities.”

Franklin said a regional force would cut costs and create a more cohesive approach to policing.

“We have good policing now, and they should absolutely be rewarded for the work that they have done,” she said. “It would be great to see all of this combined and for all of our resources to come together to produce a police force that makes the neighborhood feel safe but also is fiscally responsible.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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