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One more April Fools Day story?

May 7, 2011
Chuck Hunt, Register Editor
I have to admit, it sounds like an April Fools Day story possibility.

I wish I would have thought of it. It would have made for a dandy one. Except for one thing – it might be just too unbelievable, and our readers may have spotted it as our annual prank story right away.

But, here, let me try it out on you.

The headline would read: “Winnebago to provide police service for Blue Earth”

In an attempt to trim costs from their budget, the Blue Earth City Council voted today to abolish their police department.

In its stead, they have contracted with the City of Winnebago to provide police protection and patrolling in the City of Blue Earth.

Winnebago City Administrator Austin Bleess says he was shocked when he was asked to provide the service. but was happy to do so, as it will bring in additional funds into the city coffers.

“Our police budget was a little strapped for cash,” Bleess says. “This will be a huge boost for us.”

OK, you get the idea of how the story would go.

I could add details such as whether the squad cars would read ‘Winnebago Police – Blue Earth Division’ and things like that to make it more intriguing. I could quote City Administrator Kathy Bailey as to the cost savings involved to make the story more believable.

Yet, I think alert readers would spot it for a fake right away.

Except for one thing. It’s true. Or, at least, it could become true.

The City of Blue Earth is actually considering abolishing their police department and hiring someone else to do the job. Someone like the sheriff’s department or the City of Winnebago.

Maybe they will also consider the City of Elmore. After all, Blue Earth now provides fire protection and ambulance service for Elmore – maybe it is only fair that Elmore return the favor and provide police protection here.

While it makes sense for the City Council to take some time to study the police issue – with the retirement of the police chief – let’s try and remain reasonable.

Contracting with the sheriff’s office makes some sense. After all, they have the manpower and the equipment and the offices – and they are located right here in Blue Earth.

A possible joint powers venture with a neighboring city, like Winnebago, also makes some sense. Both cities might gain something from the association.

But, hiring another city’s police department to patrol in Blue Earth? A smaller city with a smaller police force than is in force here now?

C’mon, you have got to be kidding. Are times really so bad the City of Blue Earth can’t afford their own police department, while cities such as Wells, Winnebago and even Elmore, can?

The other issue here is, what would we really be saving?

If the sheriff’s department or City of Winnebago charges Blue Earth $455,000 per year for providing police service, the city only saves around $70,000 – the cost of one officer.

That is not much in a multi-million dollar budget.

Why not instead try and have a full time police department in Blue Earth, and offer to provide police patrolling and administrative services to the other towns in the area – like Winnebago?

After all, their police chief will also be retiring at some point in the future. They may be in same situation Blue Earth is in right now.

So instead of going to all this work to trim a measly $70,000 from the city budget, how about this idea.

Just trim back the police department a little more and maintain it much as it is – with one new twist.

Perhaps the city administrator’s idea of having police officers do on call time would be a good solution.

Do we really need someone out in a squad car patrolling 24-hours a day, seven days a week?

Or, if they patrol at certain times, and are just on call at other times, would that be sufficient?

Seems to make a lot more sense than giving up control of the police department that patrols in your own city.
 
 

 

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