By: RICK MCCANN/STAFF
PRIVATE OFFICER NEWS NETWORK
For the past two years, police and sheriff departments have struggled to maintain their agencies with less money, fewer officers and no new equipment.
There has been lay offs and furloughs of “non-essential” personnel including civilian employees, community service officers, animal control officers and in some cases a few law enforcement officers here and there.
But, as time goes on and the economy is reportedly getting better, many public safety agencies are still having to fight to staff their jails, patrol cars and provide an acceptable level of service to the public that they are sworn to serve and protect.
In Birmingham Alabama the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was forced to lay off several dozen patrol deputies for a number of months because they simply did not have the money to make payroll.
And they’re not alone. Police and sheriff departments in at least 43 jurisdictions have decreased their staff, their coverage area and the services that they will now provide.
Just these week two other departments, Charlotte Mecklenburg North Carolina and Ingrham County sheriffs Department in Michigan have taken steps to downsize their departments.
About ten years ago, the Charlotte police department combined their agency with the Mecklenburg County Police and became the CMPD. That move greatly increased their staff numbers as well as their response area and brought needed resources and increased budgets to both agencies.
But that was then and this is now. Now CMPD is taking a serious look at removing the Mecklenburg County name from their department and restricting services and response areas to the city limits of Charlotte, leaving those living in the non-incorporated areas of the county without police service.
After years of cuts to the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office they have relinquished most patrol duty to other agencies and this week the county commission has said no more.
“The office has lost 42 positions in the past three years,” Commissioner Randy Schafer said. “The road patrol is about non-existent.”
The Ingham County Board of Commissioners made a decision Tuesday that was a long time coming.
“This is culmination of folks understanding we do have budget problems and our only option is to target the more discretionary items,” Chairperson Debbie DeLeon said.
Tuesday’s vote didn’t make it official, but it showed the board’s intent to eliminate county road patrol services effective January, 1 2011 — a move that would go along way in cutting down the county’s $5 million budget deficit.
“I think this is a sad day,” Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth said. “Most counties are hurting and are in trouble, but I think public safety should be the first priority, not the last.”
Leslie Township Supervisor Dallas Henney had hoped this day would never come.
“I don’t think the folks of Ingham County want to live without road patrol,” Henney said.
He said the 13 outlying townships and one village have come together and are considering an alternative — creating a township-wide police authority and paying for patrols themselves.
“We are looking at a special assessment, everyone in the county would pay the same amount, no matter how big or small your house is,” Henney said. “The thought is if you use the service, everyone should pay the same amount.”
Each township will decide to either fund this idea or not.
Henney said they don’t know if it will be on the August ballot or November’s.
If the money is not there to adequately fund city and county law enforcement agencies there will be more of this said Ronnie Parks, a professor of law. The public in some ways will have to except less services, slower responses and in some cases, no response.