Chester police department stretched thin, mayor says not true

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The Chester Police Department is being stretched thin. (WPVI)

The Chester Police Department is being stretched thin.

A number of officers retired at the end of the year; now, the department is staffed well below the 106 officers its budgeted for.

22nd and Howard brought Chester its first murder of 2017.

For a city of 34,000 with one of the highest per-capita murder rates in the country, there are currently only three people in the detective division.

"Presently there's a captain's detective and two active detectives right now," Corporal Steve Byrne of the Fraternal Order of Police said.

Budgeted for over 100 officers, the force has 72.

"Over the past year we lost about 20, and probably a dozen or so just the other day," Chester Police Chief James Nolan said.

A new year brought a wave of retirements, as the department deals with budget constraints and waits for a new contract from the city.

Their old one expired New Year's Eve.

"We're manning as much as we can and people are pulling double duty in some places, until we can make some transfers and changes," Nolan said.

Out of town in Harrisburg, Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland spoke to Action News by phone.

"We're not short-staffed. We knew that there were officers going to retire, so we simply redeployed some of our officers. We do have 72 able bodied police officers who are capable of doing the job and who are doing the job. So I'm very confident in their abilities," Kirkland said.

Community activist and former mayor John Linder says residents are concerned. He says everyone is talking about this situation.

Linder says this is a public safety issue.

"Being short-staffed increases the vulnerability," Linder said.

"Of course, it makes me feel unsafe. There's not enough police officers, there's too many people who do so many types of crimes," resident Danielle Mills said.

Last year, Chester had 27 homicides, which is lower than previous years, but only 1/3 were closed.

Top officials say the issue is it takes time to get qualified police recruits trained and ready to patrol, but assure residents, they shouldn't be worried.

Mayor Kirkland says a contract for police will be coming soon.

Meanwhile, top brass says a class of recruits will finish going through the academy later this month and will add ten more officers.

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