Some of the more beautiful lawns in West Chester are seen along High Street, between the Golf & Country Club and the Chester County Historical Society. With their manicured lawns, shady foliage, and matching fences, it would not appear to the casual visitor that the borough has been having a growing number of problems with rowdy bar patrons, out-of control college students and destruction of property. In fact, by virtue of the row of reelection signs on these properties, it may appear that Dick Yoder is the popular choice for Mayor over the next five years. However, a walk down the block would reveal that those neighborhoods are in the minority in the borough, as the distance between them and the growing West Chester nightlife scene is spacious enough to isolate them from the noise and the vandalism.Over the past year, Mayor Yoder’s responses to the increased need for security have been proposals for expensive programs meant to add resources to the West Chester Police Department. However, the only thing these proposals have accomplished is to highlight the failures of Mr. Yoder to properly manage the Police Department his only task as Mayor.
In April, he introduced a plan to install surveillance cameras along South Walnut Street in order to assist police in spotting alcohol-related crimes, such as vandalism. Two days later, the newly renovated Chester County Courthouse was marred with graffiti. The clean-up to the masonry and the bronze cost $5,000. Even with 16 different camera angles taping 24 hours a day around the courthouse, the case is still under investigation and no suspects have been taken into custody. Putting two and two together, it is clear that Yoder’s “Night Eye” program, if proven to be as effective as the current surveillance system at the corner of Market and High Streets, will be a colossal waste of tax money.
Mr. Yoder’s most recent proposal is to augment the West Chester Police Department with Criminal Justice majors at the WCU School of Business & Public Affairs. The “Ambassador Patrol Program,” while still in the planning stages, calls for students from West Chester University to patrol the streets at night, report criminal activities, and generally cut down on misbehavior related to the growing nightlife scene in the borough. Wearing special uniforms and using equipment supplied to them by the police department, these “Ambassadors” would serve as more than a simple crime deterrent: Yoder intends to use WCU students as an inexpensive replacement for actually stationing cops around West Chester when bars let out.
The difference between the “Ambassador Patrol” and “Night Eye” is that Yoder now plans to use our classmates as human security cameras instead of opting for the more expensive hardware. The inherent risk involved here is not a question of money so much as it is a question of potential liability. If West Chester University buys into this program, does the school make itself vulnerable in the case that one of its students is seriously injured in the line of duty for the WCPD? If a poorly trained Ambassador happens to act out of turn and use excessive force or make an unwarranted citizen’s arrest, will the police department and borough take the heat? There is also the question of whether the program will be effective in light of these risks, as some students may be loath to report minor offenses, such as underage drinking, for fear of personal reprisal.
While the period for voter registration has passed, residents that feel strongly about this issue must still make their voices heard. On Oct. 25 and 26, voters will have the opportunity to meet both Mr. Yoder and his opponent in the upcoming mayoral election, Dr. Jim Jones, a member of the History Department at WCU.
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Mr. Yoder and Dr. Jones will partake in a “Meet the Candidates” night at the Melton Arts & Education Center at 6 p.m. On Wednesday, Oct. 26, residents will have the opportunity to hear the candidates speak at the Mayoral Forum in Sykes Student Union at 7 p.m.
The bottom line for Dick Yoder and the Borough of West Chester is that there is no capable replacement for good old police work; as criminal justice senior Sean Elbing said in last week’s Quad, “If West Chester Police and the borough need more help, here’s a simple answer: hire more cops so we canhave jobs.” Expensive programs like “Night Eye” and risky programs like the Ambassador Patrol are unproven in their abilities to achieve the low crime rates we’d like to see in West Chester. The only thing they’ve accomplished so far has been to expose the incompetence with which Yoder has done his job as of late. His eagerness to implement these cop-out proposals (pun intended) has belied his faith in the capabilities of his own police force. It shows that he cannot be completely serious about lowering crime rates in West Chester.
T.J. Nicolades is a senior majoring in communications.