New police department: Easton neighbor bucking 53-year-old reliance on others

West Easton to start part-time police department

West Easton Mayor Dan DePaul, from left, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli and borough police consultant Robert J. Mehady attend a news conference Feb. 19, 2019, at 301 Sixth St. on the creation of a new West Easton Police Department.

West Easton is on track this year to get its first police department in more than half a century.

Borough Mayor Dan DePaul announced the new department Tuesday, alongside his pick for chief of the new part-time department and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli.

"My dream was to have a police department that we could call our own and have vehicles that were marked 'West Easton Police Department,' and when those vehicles ride around the borough the people in this community know that there's a presence and there's someone you can turn to, someone you can call, someone in this community that will help you," DePaul said.

The borough expects to have police consultant Robert J. Mehady sworn-in by a Northampton County judge to lead the department, assisted by two or three part-time officers, DePaul said.

Mehady retired as sergeant from the Pennsylvania State Police and spent most of his 25-year career out of the Belfast barracks. State police have patrolled West Easton since 2013, following contracts for police coverage with Wilson Borough and Easton dating to 1966, according to Morganelli.

"West Easton is a great place to have a small department, because of the fact that geographically we're not talking about a large area," the district attorney said, as he delivered a check for $10,000 to West Easton to help get the new department up and running.

West Easton to start part-time police department

The new West Easton Police Department will operate out of 301 Sixth St., seen here Feb. 19, 2019. It had been borough hall until it was sold to West Easton's Safety First Volunteer Fire Co. as a firehouse in 1990.

DePaul said the borough has about $300,000 budgeted for police department startup costs, from the budgets of 2018 and 2019. He said the move did not result from state legislators considering Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed fee for municipalities covered by state police. Based on a sliding scale according to population, the new fee is proposed at $10,040 for West Easton, or $8 per person in the borough of 1,255 people.

“We’re very satisfied in the DA’s office as to the police response that we do get from state police,” Morganelli noted.

The department will operate out of 301 Sixth St. in West Easton, which had been borough hall until it was sold to West Easton's Safety First Volunteer Fire Co. as a firehouse in 1990. DePaul negotiated a 10-year lease for $1 a year with 10-year extension to turn what had been a rundown storage area into police headquarters.

"We already started the process of turning this old fire station, borough hall years ago, into a police station," the mayor said. "We tried to do the best we could and do it thrifty: paint, cosmetic, some major things like water lines had to be brought back in, electric had to be brought back in, everything was cut off.

"The only thing downstairs was a furnace which needed no work but a motor, the fuse box was there but it was hooked up to no meter. And we ran all that. What you see today is almost the finishing touches of bringing this building back to life."

With the county donation that the borough will match, DePaul said he and council will purchase furniture in coming days. The department also needs computers and other equipment, uniforms, gun racks and a storage area and evidence room. RCN is already lined up to hook up data lines.

West Easton to start part-time police department

A Northampton County Sheriff's Department SUV sold to West Easton is parked Feb. 19, 2019, outside the new borough police department at 301 Sixth St.

Northampton County sold a sheriff's department SUV to the borough and Palmer Township donated two more police SUVs, which the borough's mechanic will fix up.

Mehady said he envisions patrols starting around Memorial Day, though DePaul is hoping for an earlier kickoff over the next month or two.

The plan is to follow Stockertown's model where borough police are on for part of each day, and state police fill in the rest of the day or night. DePaul and Morganelli said it's possible a part-time setup like that may free West Easton from having to pay any new state fee for state police coverage.

State police would also assist in any major incident, according to Mehady and Morganelli.

Borough police are expected to be more responsive to enforcing borough ordinances. One problem DePaul hopes to resolve is vehicles abandoned on borough streets. Mehady, who began working with the borough last year on setting up the department, said he recently counted about 50 vehicles registered to owners who don't live in West Easton.

“It’s a little oasis here, and people are very proud of where they live and they deserve -- the state police have done a phenomenal job -- but they want a little hands-on and I hope I can offer that as well,” Mehady said.

Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein and Facebook. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.