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Chambersburg boro council votes to disband strategic response team

Updated: Tuesday, September 10 2013, 10:41 PM CDT
Reported by: James Tully

CHAMBERSBURG -- Chambersburg City Council has eliminated the Police Department's Special Emergency Team (SET), saying it would rather have officers on foot patrol around the downtown and other areas.

Chambersburg Mayor Pete Lagiovane disagrees, and with two major incidents in the last week, members of the now-disbanded emergency team also feel it's a very poor decision.

Monday evening's pursuit of a bank robber, which left two state troopers injured and ended with the robber taking his own life, started in nearby Guilford Township. Three days earlier, a bomb threat at a Franklin County preschool also hit close to home for Chambersburg residents.

Police are now saying the two incidents are related. 

"The question you have to ask yourself (is) how many other communities the size of Chambersburg support their own separate independent SWAT team and the answer is zero," Chambersburg Council President Bill McLaughlin said.

McLaughin added that this decision isn't going to cost anyone their jobs.

"Nobody loses any income; people are just going to be assigned to do different things this is allocation of resources,"McLaughlin said.

Council will allocate the money that would go towards SET training to putting more officers on foot patrol around the downtown and other areas that need police presence.

The SET team cost about $88,000 annually to operate. McLaughlin also explained that the SET was used only one time last year for an emergency mobilization.

But when CBS 21 spoke with Lagiovane, who opposed the decision to disband the SET team.

"We've experienced two murders last year (and) one this year," he said.

"While we were debating this last night, two state policeman not far from here were shot. The challenges we face now are most different than they were 10 years ago," he added.  

Challenges like Monday night's pursuit into Cumberland County are incidents that McLaughlin feels are handled capably by state police.
"They sure are if they can get here in time," Lagiovane said, adding that it takes at least an hour for a trooper to respond to incidents in the borough.

"The council doesn't appreciate the challenges a modern police force faces. They have a vision of the borough that isnt realistic," Lagiovane said.

He, along with SET team member Scott McNew, feel the community is losing a great asset.

McNew says the training is a perishable skill and if it's not maintained, it loses its effectiveness very quickly.  Lagiovane thinks in the long run this could have deadly consequences.

"Over time the guys who are trained will be gone and the new guys won't have that training and it's going to cost somebody their lives, I firmly believe that," he said.

Lagiovane tells me that the cost to maintain the SET team would be approximately $5 per property owner in Chambersburg.

Although in its 24-year existence the team was only used 70 times, McNew explains the skills acquired through the SET training are used on a daily basis by officers.

Council will institute the changes beginning in the next payroll period, allocating the time and training to patrolling.Chambersburg boro council votes to disband strategic response team

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