Consolidating police efforts rare in Florida

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2002 at 11:18 p.m.

Complete consolidation of county and city governments, such as the one in Clarke County, Ga., is rare in Florida.

Only Jacksonville/Duval county has made that plunge, said Tom Berlinger, spokesman for the Florida Sheriff's Association.

It's more common for cities to do what Live Oak did in the '90s - abolish its police department and contract with the Sheriff's Office to provide services, Berlinger said.

In Broward and Pinellas counties, the Sheriff's Office has taken over covering at least 10 cities. That also has happened in the much-smaller Pasco County, Berlinger said.

Sheriff's offices were generally established before police departments. Police departments arrived when residents were willing to pay higher taxes for a higher level of service, he said.

"If a bank robbery went down in the county, you might not be able to get two or three people there right away," Berlinger said.

And for whatever reason - usually money - some cities chose to disband their police department and pay for the Sheriff's Office to cover the territory.

But abolishing a police department doesn't automatically mean saving money, said Hal Robbins, executive director of the Florida Police Chiefs' Association in Tallahassee.

"If you're going to contract for services and get the same services, I don't think there will be effective cost benefits," Robbins said. "If you want to save money, you might have to have fewer services."

Before abolishing a police department, residents should determine what services they want to keep and which ones they may no longer need, Robbins said.

And even if a city abolishes its police department, it can change its mind, he added.

"Sometimes you get exactly what you pay for, and sometimes you decide it's not exactly what you want," Robbins said. The Live Oak and Suwannee County law enforcement agencies tried a relatively short experiment in consolidation in the 1990s, but went back to having two separate agencies five years later.

"I wanted it because I thought that there was so much confusion between city council and chief of police that I thought the sheriff could do a better job without interference of city council," said Buddy Nott, who retired as mayor in July.

But consolidation didn't change things much, he added.

"They found Sheriff Robert Leonard was not going to let them control him either," Nott said. "He would do what he thought was the right thing. If he agreed with what they requested, he would do it."

The city council may have asked Leonard to do too many things at once, Nott said.

"They wanted him over here; they wanted him over there; they wanted him to stop speeding and drugs. He couldn't do it all at once," Nott said. "The sheriff wanted to pay attention to things he thought was important and didn't pay attention to people speeding up and down the street. He paid attention to drugs and bootlegging."

In 1995, the city council elected to reinstate the Live Oak Police Department with a chief that is appointed and not elected. They hired Nolan McCloud from Bartow.

"I think it's better now," Nott said. "I think it's better that we have our own police department. McCloud has been an excellent chief. The council stays pretty much out of the way and lets him run the department."

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