Quick: Why do we have two big police departments servicing the same area? Stumped? There’s only one answer: Because that’s how we’ve always done it. And in this brutal new economic world (just ask California — or Greece — how tough it’s become), doing the same thing isn’t good enough any more.
The Spokane Police Department and the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department do serve different areas, but they perform the same function pretty much out of the same headquarters. When public safety can make up 70 percent of a local government’s budget, this redundancy is hard to ignore.
Right now, the conditions may be perfect to start looking into a combined Spokane Metro Police Department. Why now? We’re a little desperate, as budget problems are leading to more and more cuts to public safety. And on the City of Spokane’s side, we unfortunately have a department mired in an ongoing public relations problem with its citizens — along with a chief being actively recruited to leave for a bigger post. I love the SPD and the crucial work they do for us all, but if there were ever a time the community needed to turn the page, this might be it.
This doesn’t mean the Sheriff’s Office would take over — no, there would be lots of details to work out. I can’t believe I’m saying this, as blue-ribbon commissions are where so many good ideas go to die, but we need a dynamic study committee to make a recommendation.
All of us deserve to see what they would ind — even if it’s just to combine certain functions. I am skeptical that a monolithic department would automatically be better. Then again, there is evidence that the approach works, as more and more municipalities are merging or studying it. Already places like Indianapolis, Nashville and Louisville have combined their police departments, often as part of a greater city-county merger.
In Louisville, after combining several functions throughout the 1990s, the Jefferson County Police Department and the Louisville Division of Police merged in 2003. Today, Louisville Metro Police serves about 700,000 residents; after the merger, they cut duplication and got more cops on the streets, with about 1,250 police officers out of a total staff of about 1,500.
This won’t be easy — there’s a chasm of political turf separating all our local competing parties. But this is no time to just keep doing what we’ve always done.
Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.