With increased national and local attention around law enforcement, Harrisburg is proposing a measure aimed at lightening the burden on police, while better connecting with the community.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse announced on Friday a proposal for the city to create 12 new positions in the Harrisburg Police Bureau for “community service aides” to assist the police.
“In a time where it is difficult to recruit and retain police officers, the idea of having more civilians involved in assisting the department as a whole, I think, is a smart strategy,” he said in another edition of “Community Conversation with Mayor Papenfuse,” the city’s weekly Facebook Live event.
The aides would fall under the community services department of the bureau and would work alongside officers to engage with residents, assist the police with low-level calls, and help with report writing, among other duties.
“These positions are going to be an amazing opportunity for those who love to serve already,” said Community Policing Coordinator Blake Lynch. “We have a lot of people from churches, nonprofits and just members of the community that want to engage and want to help.”
Lynch said that other local municipalities have roles like this. He cited Lancaster, which has 40 civilian positions.
Currently, Lynch has been operating as something of a one-person show, the mayor said.
“I don’t just get calls for police-related matters, I get calls about Comcast, about parking and codes issues,” Lynch said. “Those officers are dealing with the same thing when they should be responding to those people who actually have needs that are life or death.”
Each community service aide would be assigned a policing district in order to develop relationships with the neighborhood. Lynch hopes the aides can help increase officers’ cultural competency by sharing their experiences.
The positions would be paid, Papenfuse said, and would include benefits and the possibility of career advancement. He said that anyone from a new high school graduate to a retiree could apply.
Additionally, Papenfuse said that he sees this as a way to encourage interest in law enforcement as a career path.
These positions must still be voted on by City Council as part of the 2021 municipal budget. Papenfuse said that applications wouldn’t go out until at least January.
He added that Harrisburg would be spending over $1 million annually for community policing, including the positions the city already has.
“This is a large commitment in resources,” Papenfuse said. “You will see an increase in funding for the police, but it is going to be focused on our community services.”
To watch past Community Conversations with Mayor Papenfuse, visit the city’s YouTube channel.
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