Should Public Safety Departments be Merged?

March 13, 2009
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Not unusual by any means, another story about merging police and fire departments appeared in yesterday’s issue of the Mercury News.
At a time when government employees are sharing information on social networking channels like Twitter’s @Govtwit and Govloop, it’s natural to extend this notion to communities, no?
This time, Alameda, California is in the hot seat.
If […]


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Police at a fireNot unusual by any means, another story about merging police and fire departments appeared in yesterday’s issue of the Mercury News.

At a time when government employees are sharing information on social networking channels like Twitter’s @Govtwit and Govloop, it’s natural to extend this notion to communities, no?

This time, Alameda, California is in the hot seat.

If you agree as I do with the words of City Councilor Frank Mattarese, police and fire chiefs are administrators, not trained professionals.

The fire chief does not fight fires and the police chief does not investigate crimes. They’re administrators and they help run the departments.

An expiring member of the International City/County Management Association, I receive daily emails about municipal government initiatives, mainly centered around the United States, as they appear in mainstream media.

This morning’s edition included a bit about Alameda, and how the 72,000-population city is consulting with ICMA for a management study.

“The police and fire departments make up about 70 percent of the city’s budget,” Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman said. “If we are going to make such a significant contribution toward public safety, then we should also make sure that we are using our resources wisely and effectively.”

It’s fair to say many communities are experiencing similar bouts of economic difficulty, but a quick search indicates Alameda is not the first to consider public safety mergers.

Last month’s newspapers saw the Detroit suburbs of Bloomfield Township and Birmingham beginning to combine dispatch services. Hundreds of miles away, several northern Kentucky communities ponder flat-out population consolidation, the idea being if police and fire services are merging, why not complete communities?

Closer to home, the western Massachusetts communities of Bernardston and Gill are considering combining forces and creating a joint police chief.

A municipal director of public safety is a no-brainer to me, especially in Massachusetts when the governor is advised by a Secretary of Public Safety, who in turn appoints directors of state police, correction, fire services, and other essential functions. If the top-down model is successful on the state level, why not with localities?

Photo credit: roadsidepictures


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