Should local police departments be consolidated?

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This topic contains 14 replies, has 12 voices, and was last updated by  Dave Nash 9 years ago.

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  • #132817

    Kacie Galbraith

    There are over 17,000 police departments in the United States, compared with only 170 in Canada and 54 in the UK, according to an ICMA article, “Consolidating Public Safety.”

    What do you think– can we reduce costs through consolidation, without sacrificing service quality? Should consolidation be considered in other government departments? Are regional governments a potential solution to our local government budget issues?

    Have you seen any successful attempts at consolidation in your community?

  • #132845

    Dave Nash

    In my area, it’s hard to imagine service levels would do anything but get worse. Our county has fewer officers than our city, and the county patrols must cover hundreds of square miles. The net effect, from our city’s point of view, would be that city taxpayers would effectively be subsidizing others living outside the city (who often choose to live there simply because they don’t want to pay things like the public safety tax that our city voters approved).

    Then there’s the political aspect. Drafting consolidation legislation that could pass voter muster (any tax here goes to voters) would be tricky.

    And organizationally there are issues as well. The County Sheriff has to be elected every four years, while the City police department reports to our City Administrator, helping insulate them from political whimsy and maintain excellent organizational stability. And while all agencies in our area work well with one another, it doesn’t take much imagination to sketch out how various players would campaign to protect their turf.

    However, I am aware some entities have been able to contract this service out and are apparently satisfied. Knowing how hard it is to recruit, train and keep officers when there are so many other places competing for officers, perhaps having fewer, larger agencies may have some in advantages in places where it the web isn’t too entangled to be unspooled.

  • #132843

    Brian Connolly, MPA

    I have promoted this idea for so many years, without any success whatsoever. The reasons against consolidation are designed to protect fiefdoms, plain and simple. Those who voice their opinion for consolidation are considered to be union busting or anti-labor.

  • #132841

    Scott Collins

    I believe it is better to start consolidating less political agencies like IT or Finance before tackling Police.

  • #132839

    Brian Connolly, MPA

    Politically (realistically), you are correct. However, the real savings for the taxpayer (the ones who elected officials and public administrators alike should be concerned about, yes? no?) can be found in consolidating union-filled agencies like Police, Fire, Teachers, DPW. If the taxpayer wants to realize long-term, sustainable savings it must be willing to take on hard battles. Like I have always said, if it ain’t hard you aren’t doing something right. In any case, your suggestion will most likely be the one followed.

  • #132837

    Mark Dixon

    This is not just a public safety question…many functions performed by local governments in the US are highly redundant.

    I’m working on governance models, infrastructure architectures and open source solutions to enable consolidation and collaboration at the local government level.

    Given the financial state of most local governments in the US today, the only way to maintain or enhance service delivery is to consolidate and collaborate. Continually laying of people is unsustainable…yet many in local government still seem to think the “good ol’ days” will come back. This will be a long-term “journey”, and a necessary one.

    Note that consolidating the “bits” (IT), not the “atoms” (archaic physical and organizational structures), is the way to start. I think regional deployments will become commonplace, as they can leverage economies of scale while preserving jobs in the local regions (as opposed to a wholesale migration to “the cloud”). Regional deployments also tend to mitigate political and legal issues.

    Contact me if you wish to discuss or learn more ([email protected]).

  • #132833

    Lisa Coates

    Our city and county have been looking at consolidation or merger for years. We finally consolidated on 911 emergency services, but that is as far as we have gotten. Our county does however contract some of our finance department services and GIS.

  • #132831


    I’m ALL for consolidations!

    The problem: many jurisdictions and their top ranks/officers (associations/unions) want to keep their manpower supplies untouched and turfs intact; not lose political power nor millions in funding that could be better targeted, less wasted.

    This is similar to what Defense Dept. has and is facing at present–a unethical call to serve “oneself” is more stronger and legislatively defended than the more important, ethical (yet ignored/forgotten by some) call to serve the PEOPLE!.

  • #132829

    Mark Dixon

    It has to happen…given the “new normal” in which we find ourselves.

    One thing working in favor of this is simple demographics…the “greying” of the workforce in public sector. Lots of folks will be retiring in this decade.

    We may not be able to afford their pensions, but they will not be impediments…change is constant.

    Ever wonder why the more intelligent debates on climate change discuss values?

    My fond hope is that we can change without a major crisis…the selfish individuals in power will eventually be overcome.

  • #132827

    Brett Husbands

    Consolidating public services is something that we have a reasonable amount of in the UK, with some neighbouring cities sharing a Chief Executive (equiv. City Manager), Senior Management team members, garbage trucks, call centres, finance systems, IT help-desks, etc. These are all built using local coalitions. (However our police is not an example of consolidation in the UK – the police forces report into the Home Office [central government]).

    In my opinion, consolidation is one of those things that must be driven from within, as obviously efficiency often equals jobs. The origins of good shared-service work in the UK emerged from several places:

    1. Money from higher-level government to pay for consolidation

    2. Inability to attract local top talent, hence the need to share jobs between cities

    3. A real desire for efficiency in multiple agencies that wanted to work together.

    You probably need at least one of these drivers. Living in the US now, and having spent some time talking with police forces I think it would be a hard place to start, compared to some of the easier shared service targets – like, why have local utility provision in so many places?

  • #132825

    Anne R. Urbanski

    It might be easier to consolidate police services in some areas due to the way government is structured in those areas. For example, here in Wisconsin, county sheriffs and their staffs do the policing in areas in many rural, unincorporated areas. Below the county level, we have townships, villages and cities. Some villages have a small police force, while others do not. Townships don’t have their own police and rely on the sheriffs. Also, as others have mentioned, sheriff is an elected position, while the police chiefs are all appointed and report to either the mayor or city manager if there is one. Sheriffs are elected in the spring elections, which are officially non-partisan, but often their personal politics are known to local voters and some sheriffs serve many years in office, which might be due more to their political leanings than their competence in office. So overall I think that consolidating police services here in Wisconsin might be even more difficult to achieve than consolidating school districts (which is a different discussion).

  • #132823

    Arthur Gabriele

    One shoe fits all may have some merit.

    In my view, I believe that government needs to stop trying to create jobs and leave that to the private sector.

    Billions are spent in the name of creating jobs. Government funded projects only put a higher demand on the tax payer.

    If we are to cut back on our spending, we need to conserve what we have (maintenance). Bigger budgets in our time of financial instability is counterproductive.

    If Real Estate foreclosures are on the rise and the tax rate has gone up, that is not the recipe to restore the economy.

    From as long as I can remember, in every new campaign for election, the magic button is more education. So if the population is so advanced from throwing money at the education system; why is our economy declining?

    Education is only meant to meet with demand. I don’t particularly condone public education. I don’t trust government to take the responsibility to educate the children. I believe that it should be left in the hands of the parents. Let them keep their money. I’m sure they will spend it more wisely. The larger the government, the more confusion. We have to deal with more administration poops to achieve mediocre results. Today’s advance education is a faults promise.. We have 50 states in a tug of war over the pool of employment. The problem is not just a state or city problem, but more a country problem. But that’s a story for another day.

  • #132821

    Mark Hammer

    The number of police departments, or more specifically, the number of departments relative to population size, can vary for a number of not-so-obvious reasons.

    Within the Canadian context, many communities do not have their own police departments because policing is provided by a federal (RCMP) or provincial body (OPP for Ontario or SQ for Quebec) and not by a local body. Even were those communities to supply their own policing, the sheer distance between many smaller communities would make administration of any consolidated force a nightmare.

    I think as well, the fact that Americans vote for Sheriff nudges them in the direction of having a more direct correspondance between who heads up their force, the jurisdiction of their force, and who they pay their municipal taxes to. To my mind, that can’t help but encourage a higher number of administratively distinct police forces. So the number of different forces might not be as unreasonable as you imply. It might be spot on for the context they exist in.

    So I think the consolidation question ought to really be asking what level or aspects of consolidation might be feasible. Communities A and B might be best served by having separate police forces with different leadership, but save a few bucks by sharing HR or some other services. Where one has communities/municipalities that border each other, they might share a common dispatch system….and I wouldn’t be surprised if they already do.

  • #132819

    I personally have viewed consolidation efforts as creating larger bureacracy with less accountability to local citizens.

    Where I lived in a large city before the biggest consolidation was the school districts. These had huge budgets paying for lots of staff, supervisors sometimes having limos and drivers so they could ‘work’ while they were driving (is that really good stewardship of money that should go to educating our children?). When you needed to communicate, you were passed around, no one taking responsibility to help.

    I thought back to my childhood where the community hired local school staff and they were directly accountable to the parents and children of that community. The large school districts don’t have that feeling of being engaged in the community. The teachers probably live in another community so they don’t have a personal connection that makes them more engaged in that community. PTA did fund raising. We had full on labs for science, fully stocked home ec rooms and shops, music and art rooms. Now schools are stripped bare, no extras.

    The community I live in now is very rural. The teachers are more engaged in the community. Housing is provided in the community. They live among the people they serve and see the children they teach around the community. This puts a more personal face on the results they achieve and I see better results. I volunteer at the school and see more effort.

    This is just an example.

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