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'Changes need to be made': State investigator outlines serious problems in Catasauqua Borough Police Department

Phil Gianficaro
David Steffen, a state employee who conducted a review of problems in the Catasauqua Borough Police Department, addresses borough council on Monday night.

CATASAUQUA, Pa. — An outdated police manual from 1981, gross approval of overtime and a general lack of leadership by Chief Douglas Kish necessitate change in the Catasauqua Borough Police Department.

Those findings were repeated to Borough Council on Monday by the state agency employee who conducted a recent study of the police department.

David Steffen, a recently retired police chief in Pennsylvania, is employed by the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services, an agency of the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development.

Steffen initially addressed the issue at a council meeting earlier this month.

Kish attended neither Monday’s meeting nor the previous meeting this month when Steffen spoke.

Steffen’s study, initiated at the request of council officials, reviewed staffing, administration, peer-to-peer review and utilization of the police department.

Lack of leadership

The 95-page study sought strategies for how the department can use resources more efficiently and identify any staffing needs.

The study entailed a survey of media reports, court dockets, meeting minutes and other sources. That was followed by interviews with members of the mayor’s office, borough council, borough manager and police chief.

The result of the study determined the police department lacks strong leadership from Kish.

“For example, Chief Kish told me the police department detective reviews all cases,” Steffen told council. “But when I talked to others, they said Kish reviews the cases. So I got conflicting information there.”

Steffen said that in one instance, he asked Kish to provide information on the department’s use of force.

“I was given one policy in an email, then in person got one from 1981,” he said.

“The good news about this is that we got someone’s attention and things are changing since I voiced my concerns.”
David Steffen, Governor’s Center for Local Government Services

The study showed that one officer earned more than $73,000 in overtime in one year. He worked more than 370 hours of overtime that increased his total work hours to almost 2,700 for the year, and increased his pay to more than $160,000 for the year.

“Your finances are the big picture, and the number of hours to cover those [police] shifts are a big concern,” Steffen said. "Changes need to be made."

Updated policy needed

The study was tasked with the following:

• Assess current workload and performance against service expectations.

• Identify opportunities to implement alternative responses.

• Evaluate the organizational structure, including spans of control and alignment of functions.

• Develop strategies for reallocation to optimize the use of existing resources.

• Identify staffing needs throughout the police department.

The borough is not obligated to or bound by the results of the study in any way.

The study further determined that the lack of an updated police manual poses the “most serious threat” to the department.

The police manual, which was established in 1981, “has resulted in a potentially serious if not catastrophic liability exposure for the police officers, agency leaders and municipal leadership,” according to the study.

The most serious threat to the police department, Steffen said, is the failure of the agency leadership to seize any opportunity between Oct. 5, 1981, and the present to provide an updated policy manual.

Catasauqua Police Management Study DCED by LVNewsdotcom on Scribd

Officer: More police needed

Critical police policy directives were not in place, many only in the draft phase, the study found.

Steffen was asked by council member Jill Smerdon how he would address the problems.

“If I came in and fixed the problem, I’d have a committee of citizens, people in council, public safety members, members of the collective bargaining unit, township manager,” he said.

“I’d have a meeting to develop a strategic plan to see where we are in two years, five years, 10 years. If you don’t do that, you can’t make a difference.”

Steffen said he then would meet with the police department.

“I’d say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to make changes. We’re not going to point fingers; we’re here to fix this problem.’”
Study author David Steffen

"I'd say, 'Here's how we're going to make changes,'" he said. "We're not going to point fingers; we're going to fix this problem."

Steffen said he received some spreadsheets that showed that some policies were adopted, but were not started.

“You’re going to have to fix this,” Steffen told council. “Nobody is going to want this in the condition you’re in.”

Catasauqua Police Officer Don Stratton, a 14-year veteran of the department, defended the amount of overtime.

“We don’t have as many officers as we need,” he told council. “So those shifts are filled by our officers and some take more shifts because some officers like their free time, like me.”

The police department employees 10 full-time and five part-time officers.