Just two weeks after the town voted 70–30 to dissolve the Town of Clay (New York) Police Department in July of 2008, the small department with its 17 officers and 54-square foot facility was no more. Even though Clay's population was 60,000 and growing, its law enforcement counterpart was not keeping pace. But the department was looking to grow; and the town supervisor was looking to save money while providing citizens the same level of service. In October of 2009 the Town of Clay PD was absorbed into the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department (OCSD), and few have looked back since.
Sheriff Kevin Walsh of OCSD recalls the tentative first steps of the transition, saying "It was difficult to get all the information that we needed up-front, simply because we didn't want this to become a public battle before anybody was really sure we could do this and save money … and still provide that same level of service."
When they were finally ready to take the news public, Walsh and others in the department were able to say they could provide the same level of service guaranteed, there would always be two patrols on — 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year — that would not leave the township other than for the same reasons that its police force would leave the township now; the response time would be comparable to or better than residents are used to from the town agency, and the department could save a little bit over $1 million a year.
The merger between Clay PD and Onondaga County mirrors that of the Indianapolis Metro Police department in 2006 when the Marion County Sheriff's Department was absorbed into the Indianapolis Police. Similar to that of the New York agencies, the idea in Indianapolis was to reduce duplicated efforts and services, and to use the best aspects of each agency's practices.
Indianapolis Metro Commander Paul Ciesielski recalls that the biggest challenges in this process, in his mind, pertained to administrative practices and personnel. Records were a challenge because both the Marion deputies and Indianapolis police operated under two sets of policy that were similar yet different. Personnel and hiring, and training practices were different as well. "We tried to merge the best of both departments into one policy," says Ciesielski. He goes on to say that the task of managing these things improved within a year.
Walsh can relate, "Should we do this again, and we are in talks with a couple of agencies, we would probably allow for a couple months lead time so we can get the details taken care of before it actually happens." For example, the Town of Clay had several hundred warrants in its warrant file made out to "Officers of the Town of Clay." Each warrant had to be reassigned and the wording changed. Each warrant also had to be deemed still timely and active, which meant going back to individual judges to find out why these warrants hadn't been executed; some of them were a couple years old and were beyond the statute of limitations.
Fortunately neither department had to deal with retooling its communication procedures. Onondaga County, N.Y., has a separate E-911 communication center that handles communication for sheriffs, city police, towns and villages, state police, fire department and EMS service. All law enforcement in Marion County, Ind., also used the same network, so there was absolutely no change. (This was done for cost-saving reasons years prior to the merger.)
Another matter of discussion for law enforcement agencies looking to join is what becomes of equipment and training tools already in place. The goal is usually to save money and streamline efforts. But all parties must be cognizant when separating the fat from the meat, as there are often hidden ways to save.