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Officials pull $150K over syringe services

Plus, what happens when a Pa. municipality closes its police department?

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

February 8, 2024 | spotlightpa.org
Syringe services, lobbying contract, budget pitch, dead department, university racism, protest arrests, attorney general money, and no fraud.

Kim Botteicher decided to speak out about her work offering syringe services in Westmoreland County, hoping to prompt change that she believes would help save lives.

But after she went public, county government officials pulled $150,000 in opioid settlement funding they had approved for her organization, Spotlight PA reports with WESA.

Also this week, the state agency that promotes hunting in Pennsylvania has hired a lobbying firm run by a former top lawmaker using tens of thousands of dollars in public funds, an unusual arrangement that at least one legislator has tried to ban.

Finally, Gov. Josh Shapiro unveiled his second budget proposal, pitching legal weed and regulated skill games as a way to pay for education, transit, and more

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» Rural Pa. township disbanded police department after chief got a new job

» Pervasive racism, harassment plagues state-owned universities despite changes

What happens when a Pa. municipality closes its police department?

More than half of Pennsylvania’s 2,560 municipalities rely on State Police for full-time coverage, a number that grows steadily every year.

The move makes financial sense. Troopers will step in at no additional cost to taxpayers, allowing local townships and boroughs to free up budget dollars to fund other projects.

It also sets into motion a chain of events, including the sale of equipment and handing over active cases and evidence to State Police, or, in some cases, the county district attorney’s office.

Spotlight PA recently reported on a decision to disband the Sweden Township Police Department after the police chief stepped down.

With a State Police barracks based in the township and troopers already patrolling part-time due to the township department’s limited staff, the decision to disband — though still tough to make — made sense from a budgetary standpoint, said Jonathan Blass, who chairs the board of supervisors.

Sweden Township plans to sell equipment, such as tasers and the department’s vehicle, to interested police departments in neighboring areas. Bryan Phelps, who served as police chief for more than two decades, offered to help with the transition by giving price estimates.

Potter County District Attorney Andy Watson said his office, the township, and State Police discussed coverage plans when Phelps started campaigning for district judge, knowing there would be a void.

“We try to work in advance on these issues and work together for the common good of the community, and we always have a backup plan,” Watson told Spotlight PA.

Local officials are responsible for giving active investigations and evidence to State Police or the county district attorney before a municipal police department shuts down.

Adam Reed, a State Police spokesperson, told Spotlight PA that troopers received this information from Sweden Township.

Sometimes a Potter County detective who works with the district attorney’s office steps in to handle cases not handled by State Police, such as local ordinance violations, Watson said. This can also happen when a law enforcement agency — either local or statewide — needs assistance investigating a crime, he added. Marley Parish, Spotlight PA

🤔 NEXT QUESTION: Are you on top of the news? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Shapiro's big budget, cannabis cash, state House control, and a bogus voter fraud claim
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