Dredge isn't the way to pay for more police

By Drew MaGill

    Despite having just written an overly long letter to the editor (I didn't have time to write a short one) it is important that S.U.F.F.E.R. respond to Shawn Kelly's opinion piece in the Sunday, Dec. 31 edition of the Standard- Speaker ( EDITOR'S NOTE: This letter was submitted early in January).
    Mr. Kelly gave us his nominations for Loser and Winner of the Year. He's certainly entitled to his opinions. It's hard to dispute that the Hazleton Area School Board (or at least its majority members) deserves to be a perennial favorite in the Loser category, even if Francis Scarcella hasn't been a member in several years. And it's easy to believe that Mayor Barletta is on a roll.
    What needs to be disputed is the following statement by Mr. Kelly: "He's consistently challenged dredge detractors to come up with another plan to pay for expanding the police department. To date, they've offered none."
    To the best of my recollection, Mayor Barletta hasn't challenged S.U.F.F.E.R. to offer an alternative plan. And if I'm not mistaken, I've stated in at least one previous letter that the formation of a regional police force is the best way to address the entire area's desperate need for increased law enforcement resources. For Mr. Kelly's edification, I can expand on that.
    The Brookings Institution Report on the Pennsylvania economy, the Joint Institute on Urban Studies in Wilkes-Barre and an endless array of other think tanks and policy analysts have cited the lack of consolidation in local government services as a barrier to economic progress.
    But townships and small municipalities persist in retaining patchwork police departments or in depending on overburdened State Police service. Freeland, McAdoo, West Hazleton and Conyngham boroughs, and Foster, Kline and Sugarloaf townships constantly struggle to provide police coverage yet balk at any attempt at consolidation. Hazle Township, despite explosive development, has no force at all. A regional police force has access to a variety of funding sources unavailable to stand alone departments. It can provide regular patrols where needed and timely response anywhere when needed. For Hazleton alone to benefit from dredge fees, and surrounding communities to suffer the environmental and health impacts without gaining increased police protection makes no sense whatsoever. Quite simply, in order for Mayor Barletta to be a political winner, everyone else must be a loser.
    The local resistance to police consolidation might be explained by the community's experience with the Hazleton Area School District and its dysfunctional board politics. Mr. Kelly enumerates some of the recent reasons the board is worth of a "Loser of the Year" award. But citizens and parents that have lost neighborhood and community schools while paying ever higher taxes are understandably wary of becoming losers in another experiment with consolidation. Experimenting in police regionalization, however, is at least reversible and is safer than one municipality permanently committing the entire region to environmental risk to meet its own fiscal needs.
    Members of S.U.F.F.E.R. would be happy to participate in a community dialogue on the merits of police regionalization. We would be happy to engage in a public discussion on the dangers of dredge. But neither the Standard-Speaker nor the Times Leader, let alone Channel 13 or WYLN TV, affords that opportunity. Coverage of the dredge issues, while not entirely one sided, fails to explore the detailed, scientific reasons that S.U.F.F.E.R. has opposed the dredge project.
    Instead, reporters like Mr. Kelly portray us as children that simply don't want to eat our broccoli, rather than as well informed adults that decline to consume trans fat. All our local news outlets deserve a "Loser of the Year" award for their dilatory performance on the dredge issue.
    The other factor that Mr. Kelly cites as a reason for Mayor Barletta's winning season is the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. While it undoubtedly has catapulted the mayor into national prominence and perhaps insures his re-election (if not a quantum leap to higher office), it is disputable as to whether it has permanently or even temporarily quieted city streets. Though many shell-shocked residents are emotionally gratified by the ILRA, it will ultimately be ineffective in addressing the problems confronting schools and neighborhoods. It didn't prevent an area native from ambushing the police and dying in the biggest shoot-out the area has ever witnessed. And recent gang graffiti has been identified with the Crips, who are unwelcome newcomers, but are neither Hispanic nor foreign born. So obviously, not all illegal immigrants are violent criminals and not all violent criminals are immigrants, illegal or otherwise.
    The violent criminals plaguing the community are mostly younger males battling each other for territory and status on the streets, where neighborhood social structures have been shattered by native out-migration and a rapid influx of newcomers. These young males are largely unacquainted with each other and thus engaged in a Hobbesian struggle of all against all. The ILRA will do little to promote the re-establishment of community structure, which is ultimately more important (and cheaper) than law enforcement in creating a just and humane society. What it has promoted is conflict and distrust between law abiding newcomers and natives. As I've maintained in many previous letters, the party responsible for the breakdown in community structure is CAN DO, Inc. By bringing in transient, polluting and low-paying industries they have driven out educated natives and replaced them with hopeful newcomers willing to endure arduous conditions in the struggle to survive. And by arranging tax breaks for these industries, there are no new revenues to address the new problems that CAN DO, Inc., has spawned. Mr. Kelly should reserve his "Loser of the Year" award for CAN DO, Inc., the masters of all our disasters. They can hang it on the wall with all the Wizard of Oz Awards they've garnered for themselves in the last fifty years.
    But the real losers, of course, are all the men, women and children of the community that have endured the social, economic and environmental consequences of CAN DO's feckless leadership. Unfortunately, they don't deserve the losses they have suffered. Drew Magill, Sugarloaf

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