Grants approved, coroner’s report received at first meeting of new county commissioner

Lebanon’s county commissioners on Thursday approved a request from its Department of Emergency Services (DES) to apply for two grants aimed at improving public safety.

A $250,000 grant to fund the acquisition and implementation of a countywide law enforcement records management system would improve data sharing between the 12 local police departments, the county sheriff’s office and the Pennsylvania State Police, which has barracks in Jonestown.

“Right now each police department maintains their own record keeping system and there are some limitations to that, and there’s additional overhead that we’re trying to help eliminate,” the director said. of DES, Bob Dowd. “(The) first being the cost. It is very expensive and ultimately the taxpayer pays for it. So if we can bring that to the county level, take advantage of the economies of scale, and make it cheaper for everyone, that’s a good thing.

Dowd said the new system would also facilitate data sharing, which presents challenges between law enforcement agencies.

Dowd said if the county gets the grant, local police officers would connect to a single countywide system to access a plethora of data and the accompanying analytics. They will also have the ability to use heat mapping and easily access contact information.

“The greatest tool of law enforcement is information,” said Jon Hess, chief detective of the Lebanon County Bureau of Detectives. “We can share it pretty quickly these days with emails and stuff, but some things don’t come through email, obviously.”

One of the strengths of the new system is the ability to share information in real time.

“If there’s a major case in a certain jurisdiction, they’ll escalate it to other jurisdictions by email or radio,” Hess said. “But if an officer in North Lebanon has access to Lebanon City information, he can know when he is going to deal with a particular individual or called to deal with an individual right away by looking it up in the database. “

In addition, the system will inform the police if this person has a special need or a history of violence.

“They can understand that he may have a mental health history and they need to call in an emergency worker with that call or he may have a violent history and they need to recruit additional officers,” Hess said. “So it’s safer for the public and safer for officers.”

Using heatmaps, Hess added, means trends can be shared more quickly, especially when it comes to a crime wave, which could potentially be county-wide since crime doesn’t respect borders. municipal.

If the county receives the federal grant, Dowd hopes the system, which would be available to all county police departments at no additional cost to them, will be operational in 2023.

The second grant of $100,000 is for the required five-year renewal of the risk mitigation plan which must be updated when it expires in 2023.

Dowd noted that there is normally a 25% cost share for the county, but added that for this particular grant round, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency has indicated that it plans to use the America Rescue Plan Act and CARES funding distributed federally to cover the county. part of the mandated program.

“The Risk Mitigation Plan identifies county-wide risks, hazards, and vulnerabilities that could impact safety and identifies mitigations and projects that could be funded to help reduce the impact of those,” Dowd said. “There is a need for any federal risk mitigation funding to do things like repair dams or install water retention. …And the required plan allows us to access funding for retention projects.

In other county cases, commissioners received the county coroner’s annual report, which included statistics on cases investigated by the department in 2021.

County Coroner Dr. Jeffrey A. Yocum said the increase in cremation requests has increased the department’s workload since state law requires an inquest before a person can be cremated by a funeral home.

He said his department inspected 772 cremations in 2019; 898 in 2020, an increase of 126 over the previous year; and 980 in 2021, an increase of 82.

“It created an incredible amount of work for my office staff,” Yocum said.

When asked if this increase was due to COVID, which included 93 death inspections for his department in 2021, he replied “some but not all.”

“It’s just that more and more people are turning to cremations after burials and I don’t think people realize the amount of investigative work it takes to solve these cases and get them back to the salons. We have to extract all the medical records and that created a lot of work for our office,” Yocum explained.

When asked how much cremation investigations cost the county, Yocum said the county is actually reimbursed $50 for every cremation it investigates, which he jokingly added is immediately turned over to County Administrator Jamie Wolgemuth. Not missing a beat, Wolgemuth immediately replied, “(handed over to) county,” and added with a smile that he wanted his statement placed on the public record.

On a more serious note, Yocum said his department investigated 498 deaths in 2021, 411 of which were determined to be from natural causes. This number was in line with 2020, when 497 deaths were investigated.

James R. Donmoyer Jr., director of the Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, said a total of 31 deaths in 2021 were attributed to drug-related causes, 26 of which were caused by the use of illegal substances containing fentanyl. (Of the other five OD deaths, four were due to cocaine and one to amphetamine/methamphetamine.)

Fentanyl, Yocum explained, is commonly added to a plethora of drugs, including heroin, cocaine and other illegal substances that are sold by dealers to their customers.

“Not only am I the coroner, but I have expertise in addiction and substance abuse, I have my certification in addiction medicine and addiction,” Yocum said. “I can tell you, talking to addicts every day like I do, that addicts pretty much know that everything they buy has fentanyl in it.”

Donmoyer noted that the number of overdose deaths in Lebanon County was similar to those reported across the Commonwealth, and added that this region had seen fewer deaths compared to the previous year.

Donmoyer said the Stronger Together task force is very active, holding prevention events in various communities and said the task force uses ZIP code-based overdose data to target events in communities where a greater awareness is needed.

“They’re on the ground, they’re on the streets, they’re doing grassroots stuff, so I want to commend the task force for their work,” he said.

Donmoyer added that distributing Narcan has also helped reduce the number of deaths, saying the commission distributed 631 kits last year, which he says is “much more than they distributed last year. last year”.

Holly Leahy, administrator for mental health/developmental disabilities/early intervention, reported that there were 17 suicides in 2021, compared to 21 in 2020. She added that suicide by shooting was by far the leading method. with 11 in 2021.

Following the reports from these three departments, commission chairman Robert Phillips praised the work of the coroner’s department, saying “the volume they are doing is just amazing”.

“The coroner’s job is not a part-time job, it’s 24/7, and I’m the one getting all those calls,” Yocum said, in response to Phillips.

At the start of the meeting, the Commissioners held their second reorganization meeting of the year, necessitated by the death of Commissioner William Ames in December.

For the Board of Commissioners, Phillips was chosen as chair, new commissioner Michael J. Kuhn was named vice-chair, and commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, secretary.

Read more: Mike Kuhn officially becomes county commissioner in a brief ceremony on Tuesday

The other board positions and their new assignments are:

Salary Council
Chair: Commissioner Phillips
Vice-Chair: Commissioner Kuhn
Secretary: Commissioner Litz

Evaluation committee
Chair: Commissioner Litz
Vice-Chair: Commissioner Kuhn

Electoral Commission
Chair: Commissioner Phillips
Vice-Chair: Commissioner Kuhn
Secretary: Commissioner Litz

Commissioners also voted for:

  • Transfer contract administration of the Community Action Partnership Emergency Housing Assistance Program to the Lebanon County Housing Authority effective April 1.
  • Approve a request for hotel tax grant funds in the amount of $39,750 for Swatara Watershed Inc. to deal with the 2018 floods that severely damaged the Bordner Cabin. Because Litz was a board member of that organization at the time of the flood, she abstained from voting on the funding request. The request went 2-0.
  • Providing $10,000 through the Hotel Tax Grant Fund to the Gretna Theater for marketing and strategic planning for its upcoming 2022 season.
  • Issue a Prometheus Proclamation to the family of Richard A. Bleistine in honor of his service to the community as a volunteer firefighter, his country in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1959 (four years in the active Navy and four years in reserve as Gunners Mate 3rd Class), and in recognition of his attendance at more than 12,000 service funerals at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.
  • Grant three property tax exemptions to qualified military veterans.
  • Accept the minutes of the February 17 meeting.
  • Accept the treasurer’s report.
  • Approve conferences and seminars requested.
  • Grant the various personnel transactions as presented by the Human Resources Department.

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