Studies Suggest Police Regionalization Key to Cost Savings
A recent study of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, revealed consolidating police services in the region could save as much as $18.2 million.
By Mary Velan
A recent study of Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, revealed consolidating police services in the region could save as much as $18.2 million. The Police Executive Research Forum and Novak Consulting Group presented the findings of the study, as well as seven regionalization options that could generate between $675,000 to $18.2 million in savings.
After a year of anlayzing police expenses and operations, a study funded by the Dauphin County Commissioners found opportunity for significant savings. The study provides seven options for local officials and police departments ranging from creating a countywide police department to mergers in different parts of Dauphin County, PennLive reported.
According to the research, 39 percent or $15.3 million in savings could be achieved by consolidating 12 police departments in the region around Harrisburg into a Dauphin Metropolitan Department. Adding Harrisburg to the Dauphin Metropolitan Department would reduce costs by 33 percent or $18.2 million, while Harrisburg’s police expenses would be halved to $8.99 million from $16.5 million.
If the county were to create one massive police department, savings are estimated at $16.2 million or a 29 percent cut in costs. The state would have to change its laws to support a countywide police force, and experts predict the savings would accumulate over several years. While no officers would be laid off during a merger, personnel reductions would be realized through retirement and attrition. Police pay and benefits would be established during the consolidation period, PennLive reported.
The study outlines several benefits to consolidation including increased:
- Recruitment and development opportunities
- Liability control
Consolidation, however, is not an easy task and often carries a hefty price tag in terms of initial costs. Other disadvantages associated with department mergers include:
- Loss of personalized service and local control
- Decreased upward mobility
- Pension debates
Hummelstown is very interested in exploring a merger or regional police department, as its current force is lacking resources that nearby municipalities have access to. Swatara Township is already involved in a consolidation strategy and encourages other municipalities to follow suit. Swatara Township sells its police services to Paxtang and has reported positive results after 10 months into the agreement, PennLive reported.
To help municipalities overcome the initial financial barriers to consolidation, the Dauphin County Commissioners are offering county grants to cover planning costs.
“The report will give the broad strokes of how different consolidations can look and we want to help municipalities that want to move forward with the cost of additional planning,’’ Pries said. “Communities will be able to get funding from our gaming grants to help with planning.’’
In addition to county gaming dollars, the state Department of Community & Economic Development also has grants available to help plan police mergers, Ron Stern, the department’s Local Government Policy Manager, told the commissioners. The state will pay up to 50 percent of the costs associated with consolidating or regionalizing shared services or new or expanded intergovernmental initiatives.
“We said from the beginning that we wanted to see if police consolidations made sense from a cost and public safety standpoint and, if they did, give municipalities the tools to take action,’’ said commission Chairman Jeff Haste. “Any mergers are up to the municipalities and their residents.’’
At the beginning of the year the county saw the first consolidation, with Paxtang contracting with neighboring Swatara Township for policing. The move is saving the borough roughly 40 percent of its policing budget with no decrease in service, officials have said.
“We know that maintaining a police department is typically the largest expense a municipality has,’’ said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III. “It doesn’t make sense to have a lot of small departments duplicating services when consolidation can save taxpayer dollars and actually improve safety because more officers will be available to patrol and respond to emergencies.’’