About half of communities home to 21 percent of the state’s residents don’t have their own police force, instead relying on state troopers.

All state residents share in the cost of about $1.2 billion annually.

For years, there have been complaints that this setup is unfair and proposals to address the issue — to no avail.

A new study’s put hard numbers on the long-term effects of this setup.

Some of Pennsylvania’s wealthiest enclaves are getting state police protection paid for by all state taxpayers, including cash-strapped communities that also fund local law enforcement.

And the poorest communities are more likely to have local law enforcement, with twice the tax burden.

Those were some of the main findings in a report released this week by the Pennsylvania Economy League, one of the state’s go-to consultancies to help Pennsylvania’s most distressed municipalities fix their finances.  

“We aren’t saying we think that all 2500+ municipalities should have their own police force. That’s not really practical. It’s not really necessary. But the current system is not fair, it is not equitable,” says Lynn Shedlock, spokeswoman for PEL’s central office.

PEL scored communities on fiscal distress — taking into account factors such as as tax base, median household income and population — and parsed which have their own police and which depend on state troopers.

Twelve of the 20 highest scoring municipalities are serviced by state police.

20 ranked municpalities median income

Credit: Pennsylvania Economy League

The link between financial stability and state police protection carries through the nearly 2,400 municipalities examined by PEL (excluding Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, to avoid skewing results).

Seventy percent of those with the lowest scores pay for local law enforcement.

Shedlock says PEL doesn’t have recommendations for change, but hopes the report will spur informed discussion.

The release comes amid budget talks, which include a proposed $25 per capita fee for communities that rely on state police for coverage.

A broader study is expected this summer examining municipal distress since 1970.

Why that year?

"When you get into the '70s and '80s, that’s when you see a lot of people moving out into the townships, the rural areas, making them more suburban," Shedlock says. "And then, of course, their wealth followed them."

The problems left in their wake include infrastructure and roads with maintenance and investment needs that stayed largely the same despite population loss, and a tax base shift that killed revenues not only for City Hall — but also public schools — exacerbating the exodus.

The forthcoming report will build on PEL's last look at distress in 2006.