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Police Presence At ‘Grove Labeled A ‘Misunderstanding’

POTTSTOWN PA – The presence of uniformed Lower Pottsgrove Police Department officers during Tuesday night’s (Feb. 28, 2012) meeting of the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors was the result of a misunderstanding in communications, Acting Police Chief Michael Foltz, district Superintendent Dr. Bradley Landis, and board President Michael Neiffer all said Wednesday (Feb. 29).

Lower Pottsgrove police officers talk with an audience member Tuesday night at the rear of the Pottsgrove High School auditorium

The three also rejected allegations, loudly voiced by some members of the public, that the law enforcers’ arrival was intended to stifle discussion about or intimidate opponents of Pottsgrove’s adoption of grade-level education centers, which was unanimously approved by directors.

The police detail was a hot topic of discussion during the meeting in the auditorium of Pottsgrove High School, attended by about 150 people, and after the directors’ vote at online social media outlets.

Neiffer told the crowd Tuesday the district had not requested the detail. Foltz and Landis agree they did not speak to each other directly about such a request. And that’s where what was characterized as “a miscommunication” (by Foltz), “a misinterpretation” (Landis), and “a misunderstanding” (Neiffer) arose.

Here’s the back-story, as The Post understands it, from separate interviews with all three:

  • Neiffer and Landis, in a conversation Sunday (Feb. 26), determined that with emotions on the centers’ concept running high, and with a large number of parents and residents expected at the meeting, it might be helpful to have security personnel in place. They decided to hire EPS Services, which provides security at Pottsgrove sporting events, to supply two guards in the auditorium.
  • Landis later asked police Ofc. Wil James, the school resource officer who is regularly on duty some weekday evenings at the high school’s alternative education classes, to join the guards if he was available. James agreed, and told his commanding officer, Foltz, about his discussion with Landis.
  • Foltz, believing Landis was asking the township for additional security, formally assigned three duty officers – James, Robert Diesinger and Daniel Kienle – to the detail. A police sergeant, their supervisor, was on site during a portion of the evening for a customary check on his men.
  • When centers’ opposition spokesman Rick Rabinowitz asked Neiffer about the police presence, Neiffer in turn talked with James, and believed he understood James to say the officers’ arrival was voluntary. “We didn’t call them,” Neiffer then offered publicly, and mentioned Rabinowitz’s inquiry.

Although Foltz emphasized he was under the impression the detail was sought by Landis, the acting chief acknowledged he might have considered placing one there on his own anyway. “It made sense to me to have added security there. This being a controversial subject, you just never know what could happen. I directed our officers not to interfere or intervene unless a crime was being committed.”

None was; the officers remained quietly at the rear of the auditorium throughout the night. Some were seen helping to open and close doors as people moved through, and several passers-by stopped to talk with them. All were smiling and pleasant.

Foltz noted the department incurred 3 hours of overtime costs for one officer with the detail, correcting an earlier error by The Post.

Was intimidation a consideration? “Absolutely not,” Landis said. “We wanted to maintain a calm and orderly discussion. We just wanted to make sure things would go smoothly,” and avoid a repeat of a January meeting at which audience members shouted at the board and caused Neiffer to abruptly end the session.

“I personally don’t think intimidation was anyone’s motivation,” Foltz added. “It definitely was not on our part.”

The presence of Lower Pottsgrove police at public meetings other than those conducted by the township is not unusual. There was a significant police detail last September (2011), when the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held hearings in Sanatoga’s Sunnybrook Ballroom over the relicensing of power plants at the Exelon Corp. Limerick Generating Station.

Related (to Pottsgrove School District redistricting):

Related (to the Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ Feb. 28 meeting):

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