Con: City officials hesitant about merger idea

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Aug. 4, 2013 at 3:04 a.m.
Updated Aug. 5, 2013 at 3:05 a.m.

A money-saving proposal to create a city-county police force has Victoria officials concerned for public safety in Victoria.

The idea of combining law enforcement efforts would leave Victoria Police Department under the care of the Victoria Sheriff's Office and, potentially, with Police Chief J.J. Craig out of a job.

"It's not something you can say, 'give me the pros and cons of it,'" Craig said. "There are a lot of external and internal factors."

In Long Beach, Calif., when the sheriff's office and police department merged, the sheriff covered a fifth of the city, Craig said.

"It allowed the police department enough time to recruit, hire and train to increase its staffing," Craig said.

While the sheriff's office did a good job, Craig said, there were issues with aligning priorities.

"There was, at times, a disconnect between what the city's priorities were versus the county's and sheriff's," Craig said.

In Victoria, the two agencies share some resources, but Craig said there is little duplication.

While the overarching vision - to serve and protect - is the same for every law enforcement agency, "there's an awful lot that's involved in that," Craig said.

Victoria City Manager Charmelle Garrett said talks of a merger in the past have never been official.

She said the two agencies work well as they are.

"Financial reasons have forced a lot of cities and counties to look at it," Charmelle said. "It's always incumbent upon us to look for areas that we can share services so we can save tax dollars."

Mayor Paul Polasek said there are too many unknowns to make an informed decision.

"It's hard to say if it's right for our community" until we study it, Polasek said. "You're talking about getting a lot of people to agree."

Because a merger would change the organization of both agencies, the city could lose its hiring capability of the police chief.

The city code establishes guidelines for the city to hire a chief. However, the sheriff's office is created by the Texas Constitution.

Although Victoria County Commissioner Gary Burns supports studying a merger, he sees a downside if someone who is not qualified gets elected to a sheriff's office with that much responsibility.

"Right now, we have the people who could do it, but that doesn't mean the next election we will," Burns said.

He said both agencies do a good job.

"We don't want to fix something that's not broken," he said.

Pro: Joint police-sheriff's office could increase efficiency



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