City leaders rip proposal to merge GPD-Sheriff's Office
The Gainesville City Commission voted 7-0 in favor of a resolution opposing a merger of the departments.
Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 7:51 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 7:51 a.m.
Gainesville city commissioners Thursday unanimously and firmly announced their opposition to a proposal to merge the police department with the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, calling it "shameful," "an embarrassment" and "unbelievable."
IF YOU GO
What: Alachua County Legislative Delegation hearing about merging Gainesville Police Department and Alachua County Sheriff's Office
When: Monday, 10 a.m.
Where: Long Gallery, Thomas Center Building A
If you plan to address the delegation, made up of the state senator and representatives serving Alachua County, must contact Rep. Chuck Chestnut's office in advance by emailing email@example.com or calling 955-3083.
In a 7-0 vote, the commission passed a resolution opposing the proposed legislation that would assemble a 30-member study commission to "develop a proposed unification plan for local law enforcement services between the City of Gainesville and Alachua County under the direction of an elected Sheriff as head of the agency."
The bill was drafted by the local Police Benevolent Association, whose president, Brandon Kutner, argues that consolidation would streamline law enforcement services in the county.
If introduced in the Legislature, the bill to create a study commission would have to be approved in the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Then, if the study commission -- made up of appointees from the city and county commissions, police unions, county constitution officers and others -- recommends unification, it would go back to the Legislature.
If lawmakers approve, a referendum in November 2012 would go to county voters, who would then ultimately decide whether to consolidate the departments.
The county's legislative delegation -- made up of state Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Cross Creek, and Reps. Leonard L. Bembry, D-Madison; Chuck Chestnut, D-Gainesville; Keith Perry, R-Gainesville; and Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City -- will hold a hearing on the issue Monday at 10 a.m. at the Thomas Center.
There are several steps and at least 22 months between now and the proposal becoming a reality.
The City Commission does not plan to take it lying down.
Commissioner Randy Wells made a plea for citizens to come out en masse.
"Seven of us standing lockstep together is not going to do it," Wells said. "It's going to take this whole city saying, well I won't swear here, but, 'Heck no.'"
Mayor Craig Lowe said the idea violates the city's right to home rule, which allows the city to independently set its charter and makes changes as needed.
"If a problem arises under our current system, we can meet here as the City Commission and discuss it with the city manager and the chief of police," Lowe said. "If we were to have elimination or the abolition [of the police department], then funding for law enforcement within the city of Gainesville would be determined countywide."
He also said city residents expect better response times from police than people who live in the unincorporated county.
If the city and the unincorporated area were served by the same entity, Gainesville residents would be subsidizing police service for those who lived outside of the city limits, he said.
Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said Gainesville residents have built an agency that prides itself on initiatives like the Reichert House Youth Academy for at-risk young men, involvement with homeowners' associations and community-based policing that lets officers get to know and work with business owners and residents.
"We would have no guarantee that those same values would be carried through," he said.
City Manager Russ Blackburn estimated that the city would lose $10 million in assets -- from GPD property to patrol cars -- in the consolidation.
Lowe said he thinks that is a low estimate.
"It would be a very high priority for the city to protect its police department," Lowe said.
The 14 residents who spoke at the meeting said consolidation, not to mention the process this measure has taken, was a bad idea.
Former Mayor-Commissioner Mark Goldstein called the study commission a "kangaroo court."
Jeff McAdams, the president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, which represents the city's police officers and, after a recent vote, will soon represent county deputies, called this an opportunity for the union and the city to work together.
McAdams reiterated his request for a staffing study to determine if more officers are needed to maintain a safe city and suggested the PBA was trying to capitalize on the rift between the commission and the FOP.
While he said he wants his "brothers and sisters in law enforcement," including those in the PBA, to get the benefits they deserve, he labeled the union's current tact as "absolutely inexcusable."
Rosa Williams, a leader in the black community who serves on GPD's Black on Black Crime Task Force, said she was "blindsided" by the effort to abolish the department.
"I will die supporting the Gainesville Police Department," Williams said. "Yeah, we disagree, but we have a good working relationship and I resent anyone coming along to try to change that."
Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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