hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil

What the audit tells us

As expected, Jenkintown residents have taken to the Jenkintown Community Page to voice reactions to the audit we released on Monday. And like clockwork, the apologists and the “Jenkintown is a Special Place” crowd heaped on their rebuttals. What (so far) none of them has remarked about is how hard the Borough worked to keep this a secret. Are you people okay with that?

It should also be noted that the court handed down its decision on July 31 of this year. It took a resident more than two months to get a hold of a copy after filing the Right-to-Know request, filing it a second time only after hearing rumors of its existence. Conveniently, the Borough managed to keep it under wraps until after the last election. 

We always come back to this transparency thing because it reminds us of Deborra Sines-Pancoe’s assertions that she’s working hard to make sure that your borough government is as transparent as possible. She’s said so on several occasions, usually as an attempt to defend herself right after she worked to keep something under wraps. 

Since the founding of this website in 2015, the list of the Borough’s attempts to ramrod projects, proposals, and policies under our noses just grows longer. The park, the lack of sidewalk data, the refusal to turn over of email records, the Kilkenny invoice redactions, the Taco Bell and Summit Hill fiascos, the Church of Our Savior property development, and now a police audit commissioned by Council that cost an unknown amount of money to get and then more to block. 

When you have to go to court to force your own government to get the truth, you do indeed live in a “special” place. 

Regarding the audit itself, I just want to say that since I moved here in 2002, I’ve had exactly four direct interactions with Jenkintown Police, including the Chief. I can say that in every case, they’ve treated me professionally and with respect. However, I know lifelong residents who tell less complimentary tales. Some are heart-breaking.

I see the audit as an assessment of the organization and how it is run, and not necessarily and indictment of specific officers or their character — although it’s clear that even within such a diminutive force, bad apples can and do exist. The audit points to some major problems that demand remediation, including the department’s oversight by the mayor and Council. To deny, as some have, that there’s “nothing to see here” and that we should all just move along is patently naïve. 

Yes, some of what Smeal recommended (implicitly) will cost money, but in today’s world, thorough record keeping, accountability, and communication are vital tools for keeping our community safe. One only has to look at what’s being spent on the park and handed over to Sean Kilkenny to know that the money is (or was) there. 

Yet to dismiss this report as “obvious” or no big deal is head-in-sand thinking at its worst. If Jenkintown is to be truly special in a good way, then it must demand better from its public servants or find better.

Jenkintown Police

Court forces release of Jenkintown PD audit

Consultant report reveals long-running department dysfunction and mismanagement

Walkable Jenkintown has obtained via a Right-to-Know request a copy of the audit conducted on the Jenkintown Police Department. This heavily redacted report reveals a police department afflicted with ongoing morale, organizational, and financial problems going back at least five years. 

The Borough was ordered to release the report to the public by Montgomery County Judge Jeffrey Saltz after he denied its attempt to block a Right-to-Know request by Jenkintown Police Officer Edward Titterton.

Download the report from W.R. Smeal here.

The audit was conducted by W.R. Smeal Consulting at the request of Borough Council in early 2020 to assist George Locke and the mayor in their search for a new police chief in anticipation of Chief Albert DiValentino’s retirement, which was announced just last week. 

The 75-page report examined the ongoing police operations between 2014 and 2019. Unfortunately, the Borough redacted almost all of Smeal’s findings and recommendations, but the audit clearly paints a picture of long-running departmental dysfunction and lax financial accountability.

Budget 

  • In the five-year span of the report, the budget for the general budget has increased by only 0.02% while the police budget has increased by 23%. However, the report determined that some police costs were inappropriately folded into the general budget, otherwise the general budget would have actually decreased. 
  • In 2019, the department went over budget by $460,000, or 26.72%.  
  • The department budget does not have a line-item for “event overtime”. 

What the audit tells us

Record Keeping and Policy

Smeal gives low marks for the department’s record keeping, this despite its accreditation by the Pennsylvania Chief of Police Association. 

According to the report: 

There are many areas of policing that require policy. [Redaction] For example, when asked about Job Descriptions, many members were unaware whether or not they existed. However, the Chief advised they did and provided copies. [Redaction] Other areas would include, but not be limited to: Duty Schedule, Vacations, Other excusals, Overtime, Other Compensation and Court Appearances, Headquarters Security, Uniforms, Records Destruction, Automated Data Based Information Systems, Performance Evaluation, Report Writing, etc. are among the needed topics.

Further:

  • The report also mentions that the department has been resisting the implementation of a more modern, computerized record keeping system. 
  • The Department does not have a policy manual for record keeping and no support staff to handle duties associated with this task. 

K-9 Unit

Jenkintown’s K-9 unit has recently generated controversy over control and care of the dogs and a since-dismissed civil rights lawsuit brought against the Department and Borough by Officer Titterton. The audit addresses some of this in great detail. Among other concerns, it states: 

On January 19, 2020, a K-9 officer while on vacation received a call from Upper Southampton Police department requesting canine assistance for a narcotics sniff of a vehicle. The officer responded and completed the work. The next day, an overtime slip for two hours was submitted and an incident was completed. However, policy also dictates the completion of an “overtime green card” that had not been completed as of February 18, 2020” 

The report calls into question the need for a K-9 in general. 

“In a department the size of Jenkintown, it appears problematic to justify one K-9 unit, let alone two units. …In addition, Jenkintown is providing services at Borough expense for outside jurisdictions.” 

Crime Rate

In terms of the crime rate, either Jenkintown is either doing something right or it’s been very lucky or it’s not reporting its crimes accurately. During the five years covered by the audit, Jenkintown’s crime rate has decreased by 36%. However, Jenkintown’s clearance rate, or the crimes reported it has solved, “has dropped significantly the last two years, especially during 2019 when it was a very low 4.23%”. 

Smeal discovered that the department “does not track conviction rate information” nor does it include information on the number of crimes occurring but not being investigated, arrested, prosecuted or convicted.” 

Personnel and Morale

The report cites the fact that Jenkintown has 14 full-time officers and one part time serving a community of 4430 people. It compares that with other communities, such as Hatboro that also has 14 full-time officers, but for a community of 7500. Douglas Township has a population of 10,258 protected by 12 full time officers. Ambler with 6,400 people also has a force of 12. 

Unfortunately, the force of 14 doesn’t spend much time or effort comparing notes about its activities, at least not officially. According to Smeal: 

There is very little communication other than via the computer or when unavoidable. Indications are that there has not been a staff meeting or awards ceremony for more than a year. [Redaction] There appears to be no standing committees… to work together on any issue regardless of its importance.

The report describes the department’s personnel that has divided itself into either an “A-team” or a “B-team”, with the latter having to involve Borough staff and Council members to address complaints and grievances. Further, “the well being and morale of the Police Department has become stressful for everyone.”

The department does not subscribe to any trade journals or related publications. 

Miscellaneous

Overall, the report doesn’t have a lot of good news for Jenkintown residents. 

  • Smeal describes an unkempt police building that “Generally speaking …is in need of attention.” 
  • The office has no personnel mailbox. When the Chief conveyed “Letters of Commendation” from citizens, he taped them to the officer’s locker. 
  • The department states that officers must have at least a high school diploma but does not put that requirement in writing. 
  • “Formal Line and Staff inspections are nonexistent.” 
  • The department could not provide evidence of job descriptions and “many members were unaware whether or not they existed.”
  • The Department does not have an inventory of Borough-owned property and/or equipment.
  • The Borough hopes to create a new computerized system for tracking time of all its employees, including the police, but “the police department wants no part of the time-keeping change.” 

Borough Stonewalling

As it has in the past, Jenkintown Borough sought to keep this report under wraps, employing the services of Sean Kilkenny’s law firm costing an as-yet undetermined amount in legal fees.

A Right-to-Know request filed by Officer Edward Titterton was initially denied by the borough, which then filed a Petition for Review by the court. The Borough argued that the report is exempt from disclosure based on the RTK law that allows it to withhold “certain records relating to an agency employee” including performance reviews. 

The court denied the exemption, stating that the report reflects a “one-time inquiry” and is not a detailed examination nor an official probe. The report is, according to the court, an assessment of overall departmental performance which should be a part of the public record. 

Jenkintown Police

Did Jenkintown Council rightly target police budget for cuts?

Blaming budget woes on COVID, Council spotlights the size of the borough’s police force

Last year, the Borough and the Jenkintown Police Benevolent Association agreed to a new four-year contract that determines compensation and benefits for our police force. This agreement was the subject of much discussion and not a little controversy that involved the fate of Jenkintown’s K-9 unit. 

Most residents wouldn’t otherwise read this contract nor did they hear much about its details, because Council rarely shares information that doesn’t advance its happy-talking agenda. We found this document attached to the lawsuit filed against the borough that we reported on yesterday.

I’m happy to let others debate the need for a K-9 unit in a town of 4400. I’ve lived in Jenkintown for 18 years, and outside of a Borough Council ceremony, I don’t remember ever seeing the dog on patrol. (I’ve never seen a cop walk the beat either, but that’s another matter).

It pains me to agree with anything asserted by Borough Council, but in the newsletter they sent out two days ago, they made a valid argument for targeting the budget of Jenkintown’s unusually large police force for a town this size.

Unfortunately, the Borough’s chart doesn’t break out the part-timers in the mix. Jenkintown’s entire force employs 13 full-time officers and a police chief, which according to the contract, either draw or will soon draw six-figure salaries — or more than $1.4 million — plus benefits and expected overtime.

A new hire starts at about $75,000 per year, but after two years, they receive a 30% raise then about 4% per year after that. Police in Abington and Upper Dublin receive similar compensation. In fact, a cop serving in Upper Dublin for five years or more receives more than $182,000 per year in total compensation not including overtime. Jenkintown is right on their heels. State-wide, the median police salary is $57,500.

I acknowledge the challenges and dangers of police work, but this is Jenkintown, not Fort Apache, The Bronx. According to the Attorney General, crime for the county is trending down, not up.

Reasonable people can and should question whether a community of 4400 really needs 14 full-time police officers. For instance, Hatboro also has a 14-person force, but it serves a population of 10,000. Springfield Township has 20,000 people protected by a police force of 30, but some of those are likely part-timers. Their budget documents don’t say. 

Download the Agreement here.

Jenkintown Borough Hall

Jenkintown cops file civil rights lawsuit against borough

Suit claims that officers faced hostile work environment after discovering mismanagement and financial irregularities in K-9 unit non-profit

While Jenkintown residents digest its Christmas dinner leftovers along with the Borough’s recently released newsletter detailing its financial distress, another civil rights suit filed by against the Borough in Federal court last November makes its way through the system.

The gist of the complaint centers around officers Christopher Kelly and Edward Titterton attempts to report and remediate the mismanagement of the non-profit set up to support Jenkintown’s K-9 unit. The suit alleges the officers suffered backlash from their superiors as a result.

The 41-page complaint itself cites, among many things, that the non-profit set up to support the K-9 unit was suspended for failure to file tax returns and that its funds were siphoned off for other purposes. Titterton and Kelly alleged that as a result of their actions to expose and correct matters, their superiors created a hostile work environment for them.

The suit also alleges that:

  • Police Lieutenant Richard Tucker “took vacation each year from November to January, which he achieved by converting the training hours to compensatory time in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
  • Tucker spread rumors that Titterton was having “sexual relations with Shelby Smith”, undermining Titterton’s stance within the department
  • Titterton and Kelly found themselves excluded from overtime hours
  • Titterton and Kelly were not informed of Police Benevolent Association meetings as required by bylaws or of special Borough Council meetings that discussed their collective bargaining agreement
  • the department expressed little concern for potential exposure to COVID and that it failed to provide sufficient PPE.
  • Titterton was taken to task for getting mud on his police car.

Titterton and Kelly seek damages related to violations of their civil rights, emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and defamation of character.

Read all the allegations for yourself by downloading the complaint here.

Gretchen Wisehart

Gretchen Wisehart is the best we can do

As mentioned in our last post, I believe that the concept of strategic voting is a fools errand. I’ve always believed that people should vote according to their own conscience and always in their own best interest. Voting against a candidate rarely works. Statistically speaking, one vote counts for little in state elections and practically nothing in presidential elections. 

However, we have a primary looming for our 154th district that includes three candidates from Jenkintown, and this town does itself no favors at all sending them to Harrisburg. 

The Democratic candidate online forum from the last week showed us why. Jay Conners who seems to be running on his wife’s nursing scrub-tails dribbled stances that he must have pondered for all of a half-minute.

Jennifer Lugar, though poised and measured in her responses, lacked any palpable confidence of her convictions. She’ll get less done than McCarter, if that’s at all possible. 

And Adrienne Redd? Wow! I said in my last post that Ms. Redd does not play well with others, and right on cue, she shoves her foot deep down her throat with remarks about “assault weapons” that brought State Senator Art Haywood out of the woodwork to denounce her.

If you drive past my house, you will see a Gretchen Wisehart yard sign. I will be voting for her but with wincing reservations. 

Watching the forum, it was plainly evident that Ms. Wisehart is the most professionally qualified for the seat. She’s got the chops, she looks good, and she appears approachable. 

Sadly, on the issues, I disagree with her on almost all of her tired Democratic boilerplate proposals related to spending and taxes.

https://www.facebook.com/wisehartforpa/videos/1922285277895942

School funding? Ms. Wisehart would spend more and restrict the spread of charter schools. Forgive me if I don’t quite understand the government monopoly on education. If you received a voucher for $24,000 (Jenkintown’s current cost-per-pupil) to send your kid to any school you wanted, would you send them to Jenkintown if you had a choice? Or would you shop around first? 

Infrastructure and mass transit? Ms. Wisehart would “make investments in climate-resilient infrastructure and mass transit that improve our connectivity and environment.” Our infrastructure problem is yet another created by long-standing government policy. Government aggravated and then cited the problem, blamed others, then promised fixes — with more money. Never mind that Pennsylvania already suffers under the highest gas taxes in the country and a Turnpike teetering on bankruptcy. Government subsidy of suburban development created our car-dependency, which is already breaking the back of taxpayers. Throwing more money at it only makes matters worse. 

Horse racing? I hardly thought this would pop up on my radar, but Ms. Wisehart defended a state subsidy for horse racing of $242 million. Read that again. Yes, taxpayers prop up a business where only fools, state governments, and our current president lose money. Ms. Wisehart justified the subsidy saying that it helps to spur development and provide jobs, but it also ignores the opportunity costs of using that $242 million for services that benefit everyone, or better yet, return it to the taxpayers. It also aggravates gambling addiction and exacerbates homelessness. The subsidy siphons away $242 million from property tax relief in a state where tax foreclosures claim 10,000 homes every month. 

Guns? She would pass “common-sense legislation to keep guns off our streets.” I’m not sure what that means since most of the gun violence on “our streets” involves illegal guns. With school shootings, while unspeakably tragic, the stats have long shown a decline despite the media hysteria. I would suggest better enforcement of the laws already on the books before passing still more laws that criminals will continue to ignore. 

Finally, Ms. Wisehart promised greater transparency, but she echoes similar promises made by Barak Obama, who led an administration less transparent than the the one that preceded his. This remains to be seen, so to speak. 

So why vote for her? Simply because of the six running, and because the Republican challengers have no chance in hell, she’s still the best of the lot, and she’s clearly more capable than the bush league faction from Jenkintown. Such is the sorry state — and commonwealth — in which we now live.