Countywide police force will be consideredThere was a time when Goodhue County Sheriff Dean Albers would have dismissed ideas like 800 Mhz radio systems, regional dispatch centers and a countywide police force.
By: Jen Cullen, The Republican Eagle
There was a time when Goodhue County Sheriff Dean Albers would have dismissed ideas like 800 Mhz radio systems, regional dispatch centers and a countywide police force.
Albers said this week options like a joint police force should be examined further as county and local leaders look to balance budgets amid state aid cuts and levy caps.
"I would say it's probably something that has more legs now than it's ever had because of the current economy," Albers said. "It's an interesting concept that should be examined."
Cannon Falls city officials floated the countywide police force idea last month at a city, county and tribal meeting in Zumbrota, saying the idea could eliminate redundancies and save cities money.
City Administrator Aaron Reeves said his peers were receptive to studying the issue further. He plans on meeting with other city administrators and county leaders soon about how to proceed.
"We don't know what's going to be the right answer. We don't even know if it will save us money," Reeves said. "But we've got to look at it."
A countywide police force could take shape several ways, Albers and Reeves said.
The sheriff's department would remain intact, as is mandated under state law. Cities with their own police forces - Kenyon, Wanamingo, Zumbrota, Cannon Falls and Goodhue - would then contract with the sheriff's department to provide law enforcement.
The cities and county could also enter into a joint powers agreement.
Joint powers agreements can be created so every entity involved has equal financial and governing responsibility or so the power is weighted based on a number of factors, including each city's size.
"There are a lot of different ways this can be created," said Goodhue County Chief Deputy Scott McNurlin, who wrote a paper for his master's degree on law enforcement consolidation. "Until you sit down ... you don't realize where the savings really are or aren't."
Reeves said he and other city officials have been tossing the countywide police force idea around for a while, not because he does not have faith in the city's police force.
Reeves said the idea emerged strictly as a way to save money by working with other cities to eliminate duplicate services.
"That is becoming more and more important as our budgets get smaller and smaller," he said. "Our police department does a great job. But we owe it to ourselves and the taxpayers to at least look at some other ways to provide the service for hopefully less cost."
Reeves said it's unlikely any changes would happen quickly - probably not even in time for 2011 budgets.
Still, he said research - either internally or with the help of a consultant - needs to begin now.
"If it's gonna happen, it's gotta start," he said. "We really need to follow through and take a hard look at if this is feasible."
Albers and officials from several other southeastern Minnesota counties have already begun using state grant money to study regional dispatch centers in this part of the state.
That study will continue throughout the summer, Albers said.
"These are big issues," Albers said. "I think both will take a little bit of time for people to digest it."