New Jeannette, PA Police Chief Wants Additional Personnel to Fight Drug Trade

From The Tribune-Review by Richard Gazarik, April 1, 2014

Jake Binda got to see his dad take the oath as Jeannette‘s police chief on Tuesday even though Jake was 156 miles away in Erie.

Chief Shannon Binda was sworn into office by District Judge Joseph DeMarchis while Jake, a student at Penn State Erie-Behrend, watched on an iPhone via FaceTime. Despite the distance, he got to share the moment with his mother, Marcia, and sister, Olivia, who attended the brief ceremony in city hall.

Moments after being named the new Chief of Police in Jeannette, Shannon Binda (right) along with his wife Marcia and daughter Olivia, share a laugh with their son and brother Jake via a video conferencing app for a smartphone at the Jeannette City Hall building on Thursday, April 1, 2014. Jake watched as his father was sworn in through the phone. He was unable to attend the ceremony as he was at Penn State Behrend near Erie where he is a freshman engineering student.

Afterward, Mayor Richard Jacobelli escorted Binda Downtown to introduce the chief to business owners and residents.

Binda replaces former Chief Brad Shepler, who returns to his former rank of corporal.

Binda, who has been a police officer nearly 24 years, assumes leadership of an 11-man department as Jeannette tries to reverse a financial slide.

Jacobelli said he plans to hire at least one more full-time officer and two part-time officers and set up an additional position for a detective.

“The whole idea is visibility,” Jacobelli said. “As we staff up, we’ll have more visibility in neighborhoods and do more patrolling. I have a police chief who I know can do the job.”

“We definitely need to get up to 13 officers,” Binda said. “My plans are definitely to become more aggressive. We need to attack the drug problem the way it needs to be attacked.”

Jeannette, like other municipalities in Westmoreland County, has seen an increase in drug-related crimes. In 2013, there were 22 incidents involving drugs plus 32 that were alcohol-related, according to Uniform Crime Reports. The state reported that 189 serious crimes occurred in the city, which included 47 assaults and two robberies.

City officers have intercepted suspected dealers carrying heroin and weapons, and have dealt with several home invasions that police suspect were related to the drug trade. In another incident, a suspected dealer sprayed gunfire at several homes in a residential area.

Jacobelli said by having more officers patrolling, drug activity should decrease.

“All we have to do is sit in neighborhoods to let certain people know they aren’t welcome,” he said. “We’ll take down license plate numbers. We’ll know who you are.”

Two officers work per shift in the city of 9,600 residents.

When Jacobelli ran for office, he campaigned on reducing the size of the police force because of overtime costs.

Jacobelli said that with an additional officer and part-timers, he believes he can reduce overtime by relying on part-time officers to fill in when full-time officers are off or on vacation.

“We’re looking at overtime costs,” the mayor said. “We should be able to save quite a bit in overtime.”

Under the terms of the contract, Fraternal Order of Police approval is required before anybody can be added to the force.

The union has cooperated in the past with city council by agreeing to freeze salaries for a time and allowing part-time officers to be hired.

The police department accounts for about $1 million of the $5.9 million annual budget. The combination of overtime ­— which neared $100,000 last year — and $536,000 in pension contributions has strapped the city’s ability to pay. Council was unable to meet its pension payments for the past several years and has not paid the 2013 contribution.

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