A tale of two mergers

Neighboring agencies often consolidate with the hopes of saving money and better utilizing patrol. Could this be the solution you've been looking for?

   "It costs us about $5,800 to equip an officer from the ground-up: uniform, leather gear, gun, radio, handcuffs, night stick, etc," says Walsh. "Bringing 13 people into the department who were going to be contracted to the Clay area would have cost around $75,000, but we gave them credit for anything they brought over with them that was compatible to what we use now." Officers carried the same Glock .45, the radios were the same and the leather gear was compatible.

   OCSD also took seven of Clay's cars as a trade-off against the cost of buying new vehicles. They plan to phase out the cars and also build a cost into the contract for the expense of painting the vehicles or doing any modifications to make the fleets look similar. Timing the transition just right allowed Clay PD to further retain some end-of-year budgetary savings, as merging in July of 2008 allowed Clay to save for the end of the last part of its 2008 budget.

   Walsh adds that a great deal of property and evidence needed to be checked-up on and accounted for. "There's a lot of those kind of details to clean up," he says. "What we didn't want [the Town of Clay officers] were able to take to auction."

   Some items, purchased with federal or state grants, had to go back to the granting agency so they could decide per policy whether the item should stay with the town or go with the agency at no charge. Says Walsh, "There were a couple of grants that had not yet been utilized that had to go back and get transferred from the Town of Clay Police Department to the sheriff's office, and that took a lot of work on the part of our grants people."

From cops to deputies

   Fine-tuning the process and getting the figures right takes time. After that, agencies have to decide how manpower will be best utilized while ideally making few, if any, cuts. While OCSD needed 13 employees on staff, the Town of Clay police department had 16 viable employees. Luckily due to retirement and additional vacancies at the sheriff's office, everybody ended up with a job.

   Still, in looking at the new mix of manpower, it was determined supervisors outnumbered workers. The original thought was all Clay officers would come over as deputies, but New York State civil service laws required high-ranking personnel be promoted to lieutenant, etc., as soon as a position opened, regardless of sheriff office's personnel who might be on the waiting list.

   "Of course that would not sit very well with my units," says Walsh. At the time he believed this could be a major stumbling block. But the offices worked together and determined the merger was really more a contract in which the town is contracting to have these units full-time. As per the contract, the town agreed to pay the lieutenant and sergeant salary, as well as the officers' salary to fill those 13 positions. Onondaga in fact gained two additional lieutenants and three sergeants under the agreement, and salaries remained intact.

   After coming aboard it was decided that all transfers, regardless of rank, must undergo OCSD field training in order to have the same capability and knowledge of Onondaga operations and procedures as others on the force. Walsh confirms this practice has "paid good benefits," as the two lieutenants and sergeant have done an excellent job so far.

   Even more important than training, though, was making sure officers who have transferred feel welcomed into the new culture, and understand how their new role is defined.

   Ciesielski recalls that on the first official day of the merge, he had supervisors working for him that he'd never met before. Sure, they were from two different law enforcement agencies in the same county, but he maintains it took a while for working officers to get to know and trust each other. "It's almost like working with rookies," says Ciesielski.

   To help things along, he says everybody made a conscious effort to meet one another. Equally important was that all officers were privy to information coming down from the merge, such as policy changes. Boiled down, good communication was, and still is, crucial.

   "We told [the transferred officers] there were going to be a lot of bugs, and there were going to be people complaining and upset about this policy or that personal issue or whatever," says Ciesielski. "But the important thing is to stay focused and know what your job is — taking runs, helping people, locking up bad guys, trying to reduce violent crime — and the rest will take care of itself."

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