For smaller towns, the decision to ax or scale back police departments often comes down to money and “perceptions

Because White Springs’ Money Situation has been sparse, Joe in prior years also placed together budgets utilizing the Hamilton County Sheriff’s department as well as elimination of one officer. These are some items I found on the internet when researching other options and I believe the Town should consider some of these. Likewise it would assist the Town if Hamilton County could afford owning leasing and operating all of the Fire Departments which once was looked at.

There are emerging crime trends which are causing small town law enforcement officials to consider changing the structure of service provision, as well as the alternate strategies which have already been implemented in some communities.

Three alternate strategies have emerged in small communities

(1) contracting for patrol services with county sheriffs’ offices which Joe Griffin suggested, whereby we would not have vehicle expenditures, insurance, retirement, payroll or payroll taxes etc. At one time Joe received an estimate of $150,000 yearly.

(2) consolidation or merger of small police departments in close proximity to each other for which there are no such small communities near us in Hamilton County, and

(3) contracting directly with certified police officers—a form of privatization. This latter form of privatization may consist of military veterans who form a special private security business. From what I have read from Towns that have implemented these security firms is that they have reduced their crime rates by up to 61% in less than two years. The reason for this success is that they can see a problem quickly and adapt versus trying to spin the rusty cogs of the bureaucratic process.

Contrary to the government apparatus, private police, must be efficient as well as safe, for one small mistake or claim could end their entire operation. If inefficiency is spotted within the system, changes must be implemented swiftly to avoid the loss of revenue.

Government police, despite not acting like it, are still part of the government. This means that any progressive change for the better takes ten times longer than it would in the private sector; if it happens at all.

Government police are not driven by efficiency and threats from liability, as neither one of these things are needed when you have a tax farm to rob when things get tight. And this apparently is the way our White Springs Council has felt in their handling of the police department throughout the years. However, for some reason, the officials spend more on what they want than what they offer to the Police or Fire Departments.

The numbers of communities implementing such alternatives have increased and more will need to do so in the future. Limited resources which White Springs apparently does not have in accordance with their budget would not even be a consideration for the officials to reduce their police department from four to one officer and contract with a private source or the county.

However, most community officials realize they must establish creative solutions for maintaining adequate service levels at a reasonable cost. Currently our WSPD are not offered substantial salaries and benefits but many times there seems to be a revolving door as a result. Some of the officers are fairly new to the job.

White Springs officials protect their officers and allow leeway other communities would not allow. And frequently we hire officers who cannot find other employment or have a checkered past. I believe in Former Town Manager Bill Lawrence’s statement (since he himself worked in Law Enforcement for Cities much larger than White Springs). “There should be only one police officer for every 1,000 citizens.”

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, I understand answers some 72% of the calls in White Springs and FDLE reports that our traffic ticket citations are overabundant in comparison to other crimes handling and services provided by the WSPD.

Implementation of a non-traditional police service is a highly political undertaking which may affect the community itself. This is apparently what our officials may fear or perhaps it is just a case that if either Griffin suggests something they will refuse to consider it.. However, more and more officials are finding that such creativity and innovations are required to adapt to the changing needs of their individual community.

I may state that one of the reasons for people to feel badly that they lose their police department is they had familiarity with all the police officers, which is not the case in White Springs.

A second reason is that small town police departments usually are extremely fair to the citizens who employ them. I recently have seen how the Chief and Detective assisted my neighbor, who is my age. Yet another lady complained that an officer was rude to her because she was using her golf cart on the sidewalk and he tried to arrest her. In White Springs it appears it may be who you are, whether the services are provided at times but as I explained, please do not complain to us but rather make your own complaints.

When one has their own police departments, the services provided are the most visible to the citizens showing their tax dollars are at work. Yet many of the citizens of White Springs are plagued with such crimes stemming from drugs,prostitution, violence by guns and knives and thefts by younger people and there does not seem to be a resolve. From what we have noticed, the Sheriff’s office has responded to the majority of these crimes. I believe the Sheriff’s Department showed statistically that they respond to over 70% of the calls in White Springs.

It meets with statistics nationwide that find small community police departments tend to worry more about traffic code enforcement and property crimes such as vandalism and burglary, while more instances of drug and gang-related crimes are occurring. The FBI crime statistics for 1997 show an overall decrease in crime nationwide; however, in rural counties, robberies increased 10.7 percent, motor vehicle theft increased 4.6 percent, and forcible rape increased 7.4 percent. A recent study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reported that adolescents in small towns are much more likely than their peers in big cities to have used drugs. Many of the citizens in Whites Springs pray that something will be done to stop this especially the drug Molly.

A common problem in small towns is that police vacancies serve as entry-level positions for many recruits. After training and a minimal number of years on the force, they move on to more lucrative opportunities in larger communities or to the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department which can afford more generous pay and benefit packages. It is financially difficult for a town of less than 1,000 people, to compete for police officers on economic terms. White Springs seems to have had a vicious cycle of constantly hiring and training new recruits; this hinders continuity and stability and imposes additional financial burdens.

State and federal mandates also create pressure for local officials to consider alternate strategies for policing. Many police chiefs experience difficulty finding time to train all their employees and then having to raise funds to pay for unfunded mandates as well. Yet in White Springs, we have been paying for all mandates and suggestions for equipment required by the police department.

Towns maintain local control by choosing which services they want to receive, participate in the selection of personnel and determine staffing levels. At the current time White Springs hires four full time officers with reservists which although there is not a charge for their services, they fall under the Town’s liability when working for White Springs. We also provide our own distinctive uniforms and include police cars with the City logo.

Rather than assuming the liability of all police officers, one option would be for the sheriff’s office assumes liability and control over hiring and training. More than once bids were secured from the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office to provide two officers 17 hours a day which would leave no expenses and charges to our Town in the event of liability suits.

Currently through the insurance fund the Town has a combined single limit of Bodily Injury including death Property Damage, police liability and officials’ professional liability coverage of $300,000 Total for all claims of loss in one year. Those are not adequate limits and up to this time we have not had an unfortunate incident where someone was accidentally killed or died at the hands of a police officer. If such arose, liability awards after the liability limit is spent for defense, the Town, itself, would be responsible for whatever judgment would be imposed. And we do not have adequate insurance for such assumption of risk.

This article is no reflection on the abilities of those officers we currently have who seem to be doing an exemplary job for the people of White Springs. When we did not have a fire department these Officers assisted the EMT’s and at the landing sites. This article is only based upon cost efficiency which White Springs similar to other small Towns have difficulty making ends meet.

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