The Bucks County Salary Board voted 3-2 last November to allow Sheriff Fred Harran to hire eight deputies and two clerks.
But Commissioners Chair Bob Harvie and Vice Chair Diane Ellis-Marseglia voted against hiring the new deputies. And the funding for those jobs remained in limbo until a recent inquiry by a reporter, Harran told DVJournal. However, county officials disagreed with his assessment, saying the money for the deputies was approved in December.
At that November Salary Board meeting, Harran described how crime has increased in Bucks County. According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System, serious crime increased 18.7 percent between 2021 and 2022. That is 50 percent higher than the stateside increase of 12.7 percent.
In the county, robbery increased by 22.7 percent compared to 13.7 percent statewide; burglary in Bucks increased by 32.9 percent but only 5.9 percent in the state; and auto theft increased by 30.6 percent in Bucks and 27.7 percent in the commonwealth.
In Bensalem, there was a 12 percent increase in major crimes, and in Warrington, a 15 percent uptick, he said.
He called Philadelphia “the murder and carjacking capital” that is “at our backdoor.”
“The people breaking into our houses, the people committing retail theft, often have county warrants on them,” he said. But there are not enough deputies to serve the warrants, and there is an 8,000-warrant backlog, with about a third for felonies. And cases can be dismissed if the defendant is not served on time, he said.
“People care about if your family is not safe, your home is not safe, and your possessions are not safe. If your kids aren’t safe. There’s no bigger problem than that.”
The sheriff is also in charge of courthouse security. There were 11 judges, but now there are 15, while staff size has remained the same. And deputies transport defendants from police stations countywide to the county jail, which can take police officers off the streets for prolonged periods waiting for a deputy because of staffing shortages.
Ellis-Marseglia downplayed the need for more deputies and told Harran he needed to find approximately $1 million to pay for any new employees.
“I feel like you just scared everybody in this county, and that wasn’t necessary to do,” she said. “How are you going to pay for it? There have been 8,000 warrants out there since 2008.”
Harran said he was not the sheriff in 2008, and “8,000 warrants (for criminals) out on the street is not acceptable.”
Harvie pushed back on the sheriff’s message. “I didn’t realize Bucks County was a horrible place.” He said they are working with the courts to provide video hearings that will reduce the need for prisoner transport.
County Controller Pam Van Blunk, a Republican running for commissioner, sided with Harran.
“There was a carjacking right down the road on (Route) 611,” said Van Blunk. “One of our row officers had her catalytic converter stolen. This is not what Bucks County should be.”
Republicans Van Blunk, Harran, and Commissioner Gene DiGirolamo voted for the additional deputies and clerks, while Democrats Harvie and Ellis-Marseglia voted no.
“You’re not going to get funded,” said Ellis-Marseglia.
However, the funding was approved in December.
County Chief Operating Officer Margie McKevitt issued this statement: “The commissioners have approved and fully funded every position requested by Sheriff Harran. As has been explained to the Sheriff, once the open positions in his office are filled, additional funds will be transferred to the department if and when necessary. As a technical matter, funding transfers are budget-dependent. For example, no transfer of funds is currently needed because the Sheriff’s Office is under budget at this point due to staffing issues.
“I understand Sheriff Harran is having a difficult time hiring and retaining deputies, as we’ve seen from law enforcement entities all over the country, and this administration is hopeful he will be able to fill these positions.
“From approving $1 million to fund the addition of eight new sheriff’s deputies to putting multiple co-responders on the streets to assist local police departments, these commissioners, in unanimous bipartisan votes, have always supported law enforcement.”
DiGirolamo did not respond to requests for comment.
Both Van Blunk and DiGirolamo have been endorsed by Bucks County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 53 and are promising to fight crime.
“The Philadelphia crime wave has been seeping into Bucks County,” said Van Blunk. “From what I hear from my constituents, not just residents of Lower Bucks but also Upper Bucks. Everybody’s been touched by the crime wave.”
“Safety and security of our county and its residents will be our top priority if elected,” said Van Blunk. “We have a track record of standing with law enforcement and working to ensure they have the tools they need to protect our communities.”
For example, she said they plan to help school districts place resource officers in every school.