Unified law enforcement discussion packs Therkildsen
HARLAN — More than 100 Shelby county residents gathered at the C.G. Therkildsen Center to share their thoughts about the possibility of Unified Law Enforcement between the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Harlan Police Department. Many were against the unification.
The Shelby County community had many questions for City Administrator Gene Gettys and Shelby County Sheriff Neil Gross Thursday.
Among the questions was if it was already happening.
“Absolutely not,” Gettys said. “A decision has not been made by either governing board, though a majority of the teams serving us today do look forward to this.”
The consolidation has been considered at various times over the past two decades, he said.
Advantages of a unified system were presented to open the meeting.
Room for growth within the department and incentives for employees to work towards. This would allow positions for growth within the department, which include but are not limited to investigators, sergeants, and a captain’s position.
Better Sharing of Information
As a unified department, information sharing during investigations would be improved. This would increase the quality of investigations, as well as the probability that crimes may be solved in a defined and timely manner.
One Team/One Office
With being one cohesive department, the public would know exactly who is showing up and what to expect when a call for service is initiated.
We would be able to have unified trainings and work together on being one team. Most of these trainings would be cost effective as they would come from within the department, utilizing our own instructors.
Safer For All
The ability to have expanded department space would make our streets and communities safer. We would have the ability to have increased presence at all functions within the city and county. We would have the ability to have multiple people on over night shifts providing the flexibility for quicker response times from a second car. All this while still providing 24/7 coverage for both the county and the city.
Use of Buildings/ Office Space
The two buildings are in proximity to each other and would work efficiently for our needs as one team. The Sheriff’s Office would be used as an administrative building and the Police Department could be utilized as a road deputies office. This will allow the public to know if they have administration issues, weapon permits or sex offender information, to come to the Sheriff’s office or the jail. If they have road issues, to go to the Police Department.
School Resource Officer (SRO) and Code Enforcement
The recent addition of an SRO through the Sheriff Office has seen a positive impact while reducing the need for the Harlan Police Department at schools, and the intention is for this to continue. In addition, the unified service would result in the opportunity for a dedicated Code Enforcement position with the City of Harlan for enhanced oversight and enforcement of nuisances.
The sheriff’s department currently has 11 officers, and a minimum of six would be added for 24 x 7 coverage, for a total of 16-18 officers. Gettys and Gross emphasized that the city wouldn’t be without coverage.
More deputies would be on site with quicker response times both in town and county.
“From experience, deputies spend more time assisting in Harlan than HPD spends in the County,” Gross said. “More experienced deputies will help the city.”
Historically, a full staff of eight officers protect the City of Harlan. However, Gross said the HPD currently implements 168 hours served with just four officers, 12 hours per person per day of patrol. They get no time off.
The unified plan would provide a minimum of 200 hours and could double. Harlan is part of Shelby County.
“We love our jobs and want to provide excellent service,” Gross said.
In order for the unification to take place, the City Council and Board of Supervisors would need to independently approve a contract for services. A comment was made during the meeting about possible conflicts of interest.
Two Council members currently employed by the Sheriff’s office would be asked to abstain from voting, Gettys said.
Frank Clark, retired Harlan Police Department Chief, said he sees this as giving away a huge chunk of who Harlan is.
“Historically Harlan fixes its own stuff and moves forward better and stronger,” he said.
Clark noted a slippery slope of consolidation of services, such as moving the city street department to Shelby County roads and Harlan parks to Shelby County conservation.
Community pride is an issue.
A question was asked about who would be responsible for oversight and report to the public regarding the coverage in Harlan.
There would be oversight on all shifts with Sergeants on general patrol and the oversight of a captain as well, Gettys said.
The Sheriff, Chief Deputy or Captain would report to the City Council monthly, Gross said.
Steve Davis, former assistant chief, said history shows this looks like a way to save money but in reality it has not been.
The Harlan Police Department has always had trouble keeping a full staff, losing officers to the Sheriff’s Department. A HPD officer making approximately $50k would make $66k as a sheriffs deputy with same years of service.
“The people of Harlan deserve to have their own police department,” Davis said.
One commenter on Zoom asked about negative impacts of the unified department.
Gross said there were many logistical issues to ramp up, a lot of unknowns and loss of community identity. Gettys echoed the unknowns and said hurt pride would be a negative.
Questions also related to the cost for taxpayers. Gettys said this would be cost neutral. The plan may even include a property maintenance inspector/code enforcement officer for the City of Harlan, with no additional spending required.