In a recent decision, January 3, 2013, the Commonwealth Court answered the question of who is the chief of law enforcement officers of a borough. In the case of Rickey Hoffman, Mayor of the Borough of Macungie, Borough Council and the District Attorney of Lehigh County, three choices for top law enforcement officer of the municipality were given. It could be the Mayor or the Chief of Police or the District Attorney. The Court chose the Mayor.
This dispute began when the newly elected Mayor wished to see the police department work schedules and wanted a key to the police station. The Chief of Police denied the request and the Mayor suspended the Chief for ten days without pay. The Borough Council reinstated the Chief of Police with back pay and the District Attorney joined the Police Chief’s side by indicating that he, the District Attorney, was the chief law enforcement officer. The police officer’s association (“Union”) filed suit to enjoin by the Mayor from obtaining the work schedule or modifying police officers’ schedules. The Mayor asserted, pursuant to the Borough Code, that he was entitled to full control over the Chief of Police and the police force. He indicated that he was the head of the police force and the Borough’s chief law enforcement officer.
The District Attorney narrowed the issues by indicating, under the Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Act, he, the District Attorney, was the chief law enforcement officer.
The mayor of a borough has a statutory powers and duties as outlined in the Borough Code, including:
“To preserve order in the Borough, to enforce the ordinances and regulations, to remove nuisances, and to exact the faithful performance of the duties of the officers appointed and to perform any other duties as shall be vested in the mayor’s office by law or ordinance.”
Specifically at Section 1123.1 of the Borough Code, the law dictates that, “The mayor shall have full charge and control of the Chief of Police and the police force.” and “The mayor shall direct the time during which, the place where and the manner in which the Chief of Police and the police force perform duties of their rank.”
Borough Council and the Mayor must cooperate in the operation in the police department in that the Borough can set the rank of police officers, enter into a collective bargaining agreement, establish and organize a police department and, of course, must fund the same.
It is normal for the Mayor to delegate some of his authority to the Chief of Police. Nonetheless, the Mayor has the ultimate executive authority over the manner in which the police department operates.
The Municipal Police Jurisdiction Act grants municipal police forces the authority to enforce the criminal laws of the Commonwealth within their municipalities and the Commonwealth Attorney’s Act specifically designates the county district attorney as the chief law enforcement officer of the county. The district attorney has broad discretion vested in his office to investigate and prosecute crimes on behalf of the Commonwealth. His executive authority is limited to county government and does not extend to the municipal level.
By the way, the Court also ruled that when a Mayor imposes a suspension of ten days or less, the Borough Council cannot reinstate with back pay. The police officer’s remedy, if any, is an appeal to the local civil service authority, not the Borough Council.