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

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

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

In an effort to streamline public services, merging the Victoria Police Department with the Victoria County Sheriff's Office isn't that far fetched.

By reducing administrative duplication and rerouting those dollars, Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor foresees an increase in efficiency and an operational advantage.

"If there's a merger, all officers have the ability to go into the county, and there's more flexibility to deal with major issues," O'Connor said.

Looking at the economics alone will not make a successful merger, he said.

"You just might not save that much. You have to look at the intrinsic aspects of it," O'Connor said.

Victoria County Commissioner Gary Burns, who suggested several years ago to regionally consolidate jails, said consolidating law enforcement would make sense.

"You can consolidate the departments, and hopefully, with the same amount of people, put more patrol out," Burns said. "The big picture is the whole county."

The idea of consolidated law enforcement offices has been around for decades.

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in Duval County, Florida, is a joint city-county law enforcement agency. The mergers also exist between Las Vegas and Clark County and the Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida.

In Los Angeles County, 40 of the county's 88 municipalities contract with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office for police protection, according to the sheriff's office website.

Victoria Mayor Paul Polasek said anything with the potential to bring efficiencies is worth considering.

"You'd have to get input from the community, review the departments, cost savings to citizens ..." Polasek said. "Anything is possible."

The Texas Constitution establishes the sheriff's office, while the Victoria Police Department is created through the city code.

O'Connor said he is interested in the economic side of consolidation.

"There's always the comparison of government versus business and that they are not the same," O'Connor said. "Wrong. They are the same."

He said it comes down to leadership and attitude.

"The bottom line is public safety - to serve and to protect," he said.

From his position on the commissioners court, Burns said he could see a merger of the two offices down the road.

"We would all have to be willing to give up a bit of our perceived authority, our territory," Burns said. "No one wants to give up their job, but maybe it could be done better another way."

The sheriff said partnering both agencies creates a "force multiplier."

Although they have different policies and procedures, O'Connor said he can see a critical crossroads both agencies are facing.

"We're having substantial growth economically, not only in Victoria as a regional center, but also in surrounding areas," O'Connor said. "Unfortunately, those opportunities bring opportunists for the wrong reason: criminals and organized crime."

More than anything, timing is important.

Many cities, including several in King County, Washington, were forced because of economic hardships into consolidating law enforcement. That sheriff's office had a budget of $155 million in 2012. Victoria County's sheriff operates with a $13.7 million budget.

"I'm not looking for more to have to take care of, but the timing is right for a true independent evaluation," O'Connor said. "It's not about building a fiefdom; it's about being wise."

Con: City officials hesitant about merger idea



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