With many municipal budgets continuing to experience shortfalls, local governments that have exhausted other cost-cutting measures are turning their attention to public safety services. As one option, some cities are considering contracting out their public safety services to the county or state in which they are located.
While regionalizing and contracting out services allows smaller communities to share costs, many are reluctant to surrender control over public safety services, says Leonard Matarese, director of Public Safety Services for the Washington-based International City/County Management Association. “In a lot of places, cutbacks have occurred in so many other departments, they have no place else to go other than police, fire and EMS,” he says.
San Carlos, Calif., officials are considering contracting with San Mateo County for police protection and with the state for fire services. The Bay Area city of 28,000 has faced a deficit every year for the past decade, and City Manager Mark Weiss says San Carlos has exhausted its budget strategies. He recently asked city department directors for more suggested cuts. “They said, ‘Well, we could shut off the street lights. We could shut down the parks. We could close a fire station,’” Weiss says.
The city spends $9 million a year on police and $6.3 million on the fire department it shares with Belmont, Calif., Weiss says. Initial proposals show the city could save $3.2 million on the police department and $1 million to $2 million on the fire department by outsourcing.
Weiss says police and firefighters deserve fair pay for the jobs they do, but cities must be cognizant of the costs. “They may have to make do with fewer people, rely on technology or contract out services,” he says.
Where it began
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has provided contract police services since 1954 and claims it was the first agency to do so.
There are 88 cities in Los Angeles County. Of those, 40 contract with the sheriff’s department.
The sheriff’s department provides police protection for 2.9 million residents. Of those, 1.8 million live in contract cities.
Source: Los Angeles County Police Department, Contract Law Enforcement Bureau
Autumn Giusti is a New Orleans-based freelance writer.