Braddock changes course on Mon Valley joint police force

Laura Esposito / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Braddock is poised to join Mon Valley's newly formed joint police department.

The Eastern Regional Mon Valley Police Department, or ERMVPD, consolidates several small neighboring municipal agencies — North Braddock, Rankin and East Pittsburgh — to mitigate the staffing woes of smaller police agencies. The department began patrols on April 1 under the leadership of Chief Derrick Turner.

Braddock council members voted to opt out of the Mon Valley police regionalization plan in March 2021 after some local officials said they were unconvinced of its viability.

But at a Thursday night community meeting on Holland Avenue in Braddock, Borough Manager Lou Ransom said council members were highly considering a change of course.

"We're starting this journey; we're starting to do the work," he said.

The concept of regional policing has gained momentum in Pennsylvania, which boasts more police departments than anywhere else in the country, state data shows. Like the ERMVPD, most were enacted to strengthen existing agencies. Presently, more than 35 regional departments represent about 125 municipalities.

In Braddock, only three part-time police officers are employed. There are seven full-time officers at the ERMVPD.

However, the borough, which counts under 2,000 people, would have to share the workforce with the roughly 8,000 Mon Valley residents the joint force already serves.

And despite the ERMVPD's infancy, concerns are already abound over its response times. In May, when a man stormed into a church in North Braddock during Sunday Services and pointed a gun at the pastor, every officer was off duty.

Pennsylvania State police troopers eventually responded from about 22 miles from the church at the corner of Lobinger and Fourth streets, which is less than a mile from the ERMVPD's building.

Richard Cunningham, who has lived in Braddock for 70 years, was one of several community members at the community meeting to express his concerns over the department's lack of officers.

"I've been for [joining the ERMVPD] since the very beginning," he said. "But I want to make sure we have the [police coverage]."

Gerald Simpson, a peer consultant with the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development who has been assisting throughout the police department merger, said the department has officers on duty for the majority of the day, but he acknowledges that "coverage gaps" exist.

"We are to rectify that," he said.

He said officers' salaries start at $60,000, which they aim to raise to $65,000 eventually to attract more candidates.

ERMVPD Chief Turner, who was not present at the meeting, may be a contributing factor to those gaps. Chief Turner, who sworn in as chief in May, is not yet certified as a police officer in Pennsylvania. Mr. Simspon said Chief Turner was presently undergoing that process.

Other Braddock residents, like former Councilwoman Tina Doose, expressed gratitude for the police department's move to expand its coverage area.

"On the evenings and the weekends, we have no coverage in the area other than what the state provides," she said. "Regionalization was something I wanted to get done for years."