Jenkintown hosts second Police Department meeting, unredacted Smeal Report released

Jenkintown Borough hosted the second of two public meetings on Monday, February 26 to discuss the future of the 134-year-old Jenkintown Police Department.

First, a quick background of these meetings:

On February 8, Glenside Local ran a story detailing a proposal from a communications firm which outlined a public relations strategy if and when Jenkintown made a decision to dissolve its police department and contract with a neighboring police force.

WHYY followed up with details regarding the borough’s budget, taxes, and alternatives involving the Cheltenham and Abington police departments. Since, a number of major media outlets have covered the issue, including FOX29, 6ABC, and CBS.

The first meeting, held on Wednesday, February 21, brought forth facts and circumstances over the past few years involving Jenkintown’s police force.

“We’re still looking at all the facets of this. It’s not just one thing that’s going to make the decision for us,” Chief of Police Tom Scott said. “It’s five different services you’re talking about when it comes to public safety.”

Scott broke down the borough’s $5.1M general fund in terms of its public safety allocations, including pensions, vehicles, facilities, legal fees, and contracts.

“All of those costs add up to $2.5 million,” he said, referring to the police department’s operating budget. “We’re going to make considerable effort to make sure that we’re providing the best service.”

The Jenkintown Police Benevolent Association was disbanded on December 31, 2023, and Scott said the borough is working to renew their contract. He also noted that the department’s K-9 unit was disbanded in 2020 due to high costs.

The meeting’s PowerPoint presentation can be viewed below:

The February 26 meeting at Jenkintown High School was led by a presentation on behalf of Chief Scott and Mayor Gabe Lerman.

“You are being taxed at the second highest rate in Montgomery County. That’s an issue. We can only tax so much before people start leaving,” Scott said.

Scott noted that the Jenkintown School District has been in the minds of officials as they map the borough’s future.

“Let me clear up a misconception. We are not in a $600,000 shortfall. The issue is the bigger picture. In Jenkintown, we have a school district to support. We want to make Jenkintown successful. People move here because of the schools and the services, so we have to make sure that we’re planning for the future,” he said.

“We are committed to continuing budget funds to the schools. That’s what people move here for, and that’s what will help us continue to thrive,” Lerman said.

Scott also noted that Borough Council is committed to keeping taxes where they are and went on to highlight the purpose of the Bellevue Communication contract, which Jenkintown’s borough council voted for during a July 2023 public meeting.

“We can’t talk any specifics, but we’ve been in negotiations for five months,” Scott said. “The Bellevue contract was to prepare for all of the issues we face. It’s not one issue, it’s many issues, including sewer. We want to make sure we’re planning for this.”

In what was expected to be a contentious Q&A session, residents were able to voice their questions and concerns after the presentation.

Some spoke highly of the borough’s police services.

“Without hesitation, Jenkintown Police Department has been diligent. This is the most responsive police department I’ve dealt with,” a resident said.

“I know that when I walk around, I feel the safety. Jenkintown isn’t Jenkintown with its police. I think Council is doing the best job they can. I think this can be worked out,” another resident said.

Other residents voiced concerns about the borough’s decision-making process.

“Where is the money saved going to go to? If it’s 20 percent less to have our police force contracted, you’re not going to get the same quality. It could cost lives. We want a local police force that knows the people and knows the streets. I think it’s a horrible decision,” a resident said.

“The Smeal Report came out four years ago, and no one acted. It was heavily redacted and only recently was it released without redactions. You hired a PR firm to waste more of our tax dollars instead of publicly announcing it,” a resident said.

“President Conners told us that we weren’t meant to find out about this through the media. It’s abundantly clear that council wanted to package this up. They keep telling us that we’re going to save money and get a better police force. When have you ever spent less money and gotten better quality? It sounds too good to be true because it is,” a resident said.

When asked about the potential for contracting, Council President Jay Conners and Lerman reiterated that the borough never spoke to other municipalities about the issue.

“No negotiations have been made so there’s no information to share,” Lerman said. “Every member of the community is encouraged to take part in this conversation. We don’t have information to share what it’d be like to contract because no talks have happened and no decisions have been made.”

On February 20, Glenside Local emailed the mayor and members of Borough Council questions in reference to letters which indicate that Rich Manfredi, manager of Abington Township, was informed of Jenkintown Borough’s plans to contract in July 2023.

An excerpt of the Abington Township Police Association’s letter, followed by our questions:

Mr. Manfredi relayed the following information. In the summer of 2023, he attended one meeting in Jenkintown, in which he was informed that they would be discussing the announcement of the Abington Police Department assuming police services for Jenkintown Borough. Mr. Manfredi related to us that he was not interested in that proposal. He also told us that all prior discussions occurred at the police department level. At no time did he, or the Abington Township Board of Commissioners, discuss any merger, overtaking, or contracted police services to Jenkintown Borough. Mr. Manfredi has personal experience in dealing with police mergers, confirming our stance, that the collective bargaining units must agree before any talks of mergers can proceed. Mr. Manfredi was not aware of, nor in agreement to, any use of Abington Township or the Abington Township Police Department, being utilized during your collective bargaining negotiations with Jenkintown Borough.

1. Can you confirm a meeting with Rich Manfredi during the summer of 2023? What was discussed during that meeting?

2. The Jenkintown Police Benevolent Association said in their statement that “the Chief of Police has been utilized during these negotiations to bargain against the members of the department he oversees; this has caused unnecessary strain on the relationship between Chief Scott and the officers of the department.”

Can you tell us what the Chief’s role is in negotiations?

We did not receive a response to these questions.

The following letter was released by the Jenkintown Police Benevolent Association:

The following document, a reply to the first letter, was written by the Abington Township Police Association:

The unredacted version of the Smeal Report was released on February 21 with the following caption:

The Jenkintown Borough Council and Mayor Gabe Lerman felt it was necessary to release the Smeal Report completed in 2020 regarding the Jenkintown Borough Police Department with very limited redactions. The redactions that are part of this release are specific to the security of the Police Department facility and specific investigative operational information. All recommendations for improving the operations and performance of the Police Department are visible for the public to review. We understand the concerns raised to why this was not published in this manner originally. We felt it was necessary to correct that decision and be completely transparent regarding the issues and concerns that are affecting possible decisions regarding police service in the Borough.

The document can be viewed below:

To round out the story, Jenkintown resident Randy Garbin published “Jenkintown: Revival or Receivership?” to on February 19.

The blog post highlights the author’s opinions to cut costs, liquidate assets and bring in new businesses.

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