Talks about a merger between the Buffalo Police Department and the Erie County Sheriff's Department seem to be gaining momentum. If so, that's good news for an area that can ill-afford redundancy at any level.
The long-term benefits of creating an efficient countywide Police Department cannot be ignored. Over the years, political interference, incompetent negotiations and labor intransigence have created the perfect storm of inefficiency that has led to outdated work rules and decreased service to the city's residents. What's more, the city, which lacks the money to buy its way out of negotiation mistakes and unfavorable arbitration rulings, appears unable to get loose from its own mess.
Police Benevolent Association President Robert Meegan Jr., who once said the union runs the department, cautioned that people shouldn't expect to see a consolidation any time soon. Let's hope, for the sake of the city, he's wrong. A merger between the city and county police agencies is an opportunity to create a better department. Mergers between city and county law enforcement are nothing new. Louisville is expected to merge its Police Department with Jefferson County as soon as January. Roger Parks, an Indiana University professor who specializes in police organization, said that consolidation would be more costly in the short run. That's because no one is going to lose his job. No one's going to take a pay cut. Salaries will be equalized, and, therefore, personnel costs will increase. "You're going to level the person up, not level them down. So that's going to cost money," Parks explained.
But, as Parks noted, over the long haul, administrative costs will be reduced. One dispatch center alone, for example, would save money. More important, a merger offers the city one last hope of escaping outdated work rules, such as one-officer patrol cars. Buffalo is one of the few major cities that still is forced to man every car with two officers.
The expected legal challenges to such a merger make this far from a slam-dunk. But it is a step the city needs to take if it is serious about improving how Buffalo is governed.