Area Police Consolidation Not Coming Anytime Soon

How would Jamestown be affected if its police department merged with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office?

The answer is complex.

Ever since the notion of a possible merger between the two law enforcement agencies was proposed in 2008, committees of city and county officials have poured over potential benefits, drawbacks, implementation plans and cost analysis.

Len Faulk, co-chairman of one such committee, showed little hesitation when he said a decision is far from being reached.

“This is not going to happen overnight,” said Faulk, pointing to salaries, benefits and division of services as potential holdups. “There’s still a lot more work to be done before we send (any proposal) to the City Council, County Legislature … and the mayor and county executive.”

Indeed, one of the more salient factors being discussed is the level of enforcement in the city and whether or not it will be compromised during and after a consolidation.

According to a 2012 study by the Center for Governmental Research, the current force strength of the JPD is not sustainable in the long term, mostly due to the rising costs of employment.

The sworn force has already been reduced from 76 to 60 in the past several years. Anything further, the study suggests, may jeopardize the level of service that Jamestown residents have come to expect.

Faulk indicated that a consolidation with the Sheriff’s Office may actually prevent such an outcome from occurring since the county – not the city – would be absorbing annual contracts, salaries and benefits.

Moreover, by adopting a “phase out” approach, in which JPD officers and civilians remain city employees until they retire, the community can enjoy a less severe transition and rest assured that the level of enforcement in their community is not being diminished.

“There would be a JPD for a number of years,” said Faulk, regarding the transition. “The current police officers would (stay on the job until they retire). After a certain time, no more JPD officers will be hired … and they will be replaced by sheriff’s deputies.”

The CGR study outlined four potential models of consolidation.

The first is to maintain the status quo, which – although unsustainable – gives Jamestown residents a peace of mind that a police force is exclusively dedicated to their city.

The second is to merge the JPD with the Sheriff’s Office, which will result in cost savings from streamlining administrative structures and a more efficient allocation of resources.

The third is to form a “metropolitan” police operation, which consists of all police agencies countywide merging into one entity. This option, according to CGR, is likely to face tremendous administrative obstacles because of the various agencies involved.

The fourth model is to simply expand shared services between the JPD and Sheriff’s Office – a practice that is already done regularly.

Joseph Gerace, Chautauqua County sheriff, said whatever decision lawmakers make, the consolidation will be an extremely complex process. However, he added, there are positive results.

“The study done by CGR speaks for itself,” Gerace said. “Law enforcement officers will have more diversity … specialty services that might be of interest to them can be (acquired) with a bigger agency… allocation of resources … so there’s a lot of continuing dialogue that needs to go on.”

Harry Snellings, JPD chief of police, declined to comment on the consolidation until a decision was reached.

To view the full CGR report, go to www.cgr.org/jamestown/docs/Baseline-and-Prelim-Options-11-9-2012.pdf.