Friday, May 4, 2012

Contracting for Police Services

By Rob Wilkinson
The concept of Contract Policing was pioneered in suburban Los Angeles County in the early 1950s.  In 1954, the newly-incorporated city of Lakewood, required by state law to provide police services, sought an option that did not require substantial capital investment, and formed a partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).  Today, LASD provides contract policing services to 40 municipalities, as well as community colleges, transit services, and other entities.
Ramsey County Sheriff Kermit Hedman travelled to Los Angeles in 1960 to learn about contract policing.  That year, the cities of Shoreview, North Oaks, Vadnais Heights, Little Canada, and Gem Lake began receiving general police services from the Sheriff’s Office under contract; the cities of Arden Hills and White Bear Township followed later.  Today, the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office provides full-service, 24-hour police coverage to these seven cities, though not all cities utilize full-time dedicated patrol.  Like cities in Los Angeles County, Contract Policing allows police services to be tailored to the community’s need.
The seven Ramsey County Contract Cities have selected different levels of service, with varying hours of dedicated patrol coverage and dedicated patrol officers.  Additionally, North Oaks and White Bear Township share a patrol officer during the overnight shift, and North Oaks has a dedicated, uniformed civilian police presence during the day.
Table 1.  Hours of Dedicated Patrol Coverage & Patrol Officers per Shift,
Ramsey County Contract Cities
Hours of Dedicated Patrol Coverage
Dedicated Patrol Officers per Shift
Arden Hills
Gem Lake
Little Canada
North Oaks
Vadnais Heights
White Bear Township
Source:  Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office
Contract policing is not unique to Ramsey County; it is a widely-used approach in the suburban Twin Cities.  In Carver County, only the City of Chaska maintains its own police department.  All other communities in the County contract with the Sheriff’s Office for police services.  Similarly, Anoka County provides policing services to eight cities in the northern part of the county; most of these cities have never maintained their own police departments.  While these cities are able to reduce the share of their city budget for public safety (by cost pooling and reduced capital costs), they remain price-takers:  there’s only one viable police provider for places like East Bethel and Linwood Township!
Many of the larger cities in Anoka County could not be adequately served through Contract Policing, as their consumption of police services likely exceeds what the Sheriff’s Office can cost-effectively provide.  Further, these cities risk losing a measure of local control and identity that accompanies a municipal police department.
The reader can see that there are benefits and drawbacks of Contract Policing, but the reduced budget share achieved through cost pooling and lower capital expenses tend to outweigh the natural monopoly of the Sheriff’s Office (and associated price-taking), and the reduction in local control and identity.

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