Brandon C. Kutner: Why unification?

Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5:19 p.m.

The idea of unifying public safety services is neither new nor abnormal. It is not a radical idea, nor one aimed at hijacking or strong-arming any agency or government.

Unification of public safety entities is, however, an option for increasing the cost-effectiveness of public safety service delivery.

In today's economic climate, cities, counties and states throughout our nation are having to make some very serious decisions regarding government spending in light of decreasing revenue caused by falling property values and unemployment.

Right here in Alachua County, we have seen these declines in revenue lead to the proposal for a fire assessment fee in both Alachua County and Gainesville, as well as several heated debates about the priorities of government spending and the maintenance of fundamental infrastructure. We have seen the funding mechanism for fire protective services within the city limits of Gainesville shift from property tax revenue to the assessment of additional fees to offset what is supposed to be a core government service.

There is no doubt that property values will continue to decline over the next few years, and lawmakers at the state level are moving forward with promises made to voters last November regarding cuts that will further reduce the ad-valorem taxes throughout our county. This means more budget tightening and even greater responsibility to properly prioritize governmental spending at the local level.

All across the nation we have seen law enforcement officers and firefighters laid off, public safety budgets cut so severely that some agencies have had to contract out their public safety service or close shop entirely.

Both GPD and ASO are currently understaffed at the patrol level to the point where the safety of the officers and deputies is severely compromised. This shortage of law enforcement professionals puts the safety of the public at risk for increased levels of victimization and serves as an open invitation for the criminal element to intensify their nefarious activities.

Conducting a comprehensive and substantive study of the benefits and pitfalls to unification between the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office is a proactive approach we must take to ensure our law enforcement services are able to operate in the most efficient and cost effective way given the current economic forecasts. For any public official to deny the benefits of unification before a study is even conducted serves only to further erode our public safety infrastructure and limit the citizens from having any direct input into the future of law enforcement service delivery within the city of Gainesville and throughout Alachua County.

Brandon C. Kutner is president of the North-Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

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