Sheriff Gets High Marks for Dunedin Policing
Report Belies Advice of Clearwater's Consultant Last Year
By Carl Wagenfohr
Pinellas County - In 1995, the City of Dunedin made a strategic decision to eliminate its municipal police department and contract for policing services with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office (PCSO).
Fifteen years later, Dunedin engaged the consulting services of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) to evaluate its contract with the Sheriff and present an unbiased view of the merits of renewing that contract.
The ICMA's report became public just this week, and it was a glowing endorsement of the relationship, as summarized by the following opening paragraph of the Executive Summary:
"After a comprehensive review of the services provided to the City of Dunedin by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, it is the unanimous opinion of the members of the reviewing team that the residents of the city are receiving outstanding law enforcement services from the Sheriff's Office; that the city receives more than adequate uniform patrol staffing; that the provision of proactive services to the community is appropriate for the law enforcement issues facing the city; that the Sheriff's Office is highly leveraged in the use of technology; that the department is professionally managed and that deputies are appropriately equipped, housed and trained; and that the provision of these police services through the contractual arrangement occurs at a far lower cost to the city than operating an independent police department."While the report did not estimate Dunedin's cost savings, it went on to praise PCSO as "one of the most impressive police agencies that they [ICMA project team] had seen or reviewed", and described the relationship between Dunedin and PCSO as "by far the best that we have seen and believe this should serve as a model on how to deliver regional police services."
The City of Clearwater, which last year conducted an independent evaluation of its own Police Department, has not viewed PCSO with the same esteem as Dunedin and the ICMA. The Clearwater City Council last year discussed and rejected soliciting a proposal from PCSO to take over policing in the city.
The issue first arose during the presentation of Matrix Consulting's efficiency study of the Clearwater police Department (CPD) at the May 4, 2009, City Council worksession. Mayor Frank Hibbard asked Travis Miller, a Matrix Vice President, "After studying this department, would there be any significant savings to consolidating with the sheriff? We've had figures thrown around as high as $10-million, which I believe are fallacious. "
Miller responded, "Could you get more efficient if you went under the sheriff's office and gave up your ability to make decisions about how you were going to deploy resources? I'm sure that you would find your resources were deployed differently than they are today. But if you went to the sheriff's office and said, 'We've gone to your menu and these are the things we'd like to order,' and it looks exactly like the police department you have, you're not going to see $10-million worth of savings come out of a changeover like that."
Miller also implied that PCSO has a history of aggressive pricing, initially charging less than the cost of providing service. "So if you want to buy two officers from me around the clock, I charge you for the two deputies times three shifts is six deputies, but it takes me ten and I have to supervise those people somehow," he said, "It's kind of like paying for cable. The first year's very attractive."
The ICMA study of Dunedin's relationship with PCSO exposed none of Miller's concerns.
Dunedin's contract with PSCO was praised by the ICMA for the level of control the city could exercise. One provision gives Dunedin the power to give general direction to the Sheriff on how, where and what levels of service are to be provided, while another provision gives Dunedin's City Manager the authority to require the transfer of any deputy providing service in the city.
Leonard Matarese, the ICMA team leader for the Dunedin study, said that Dunedin's use of PCSO for policing was not only cost-effective, but also provided an enhanced level of service due to the additional support routinely provided by deputies not specifically assigned to Dunedin. During the study period, 61.1-percent of Dunedin's patrol workload was performed by deputies assigned to the city, while 19.2-percent was handled by non-Dunedin deputies and 19.7-percent by both.
Matarese also said that Dunedin and the Sheriff benefit from "significant economies of scale" from their relationship. An example is the shared use of PCSO's North County supervisory and management staff by both Dunedin and unincorporated County operations.
"There's been a lot of parochialism in terms of providing policing and public safety in the U.S.," Matarese said, "Dunedin and PCSO are way ahead of the curve in terms of having a fifteen year history of sharing services that other cities are just getting around to because of economic conditions."
Last May, Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne said that he was eager to see the result of Dunedin's then-underway PCSO study. Facing a general fund revenue shortfall of around $9-million if property values fall by an expected 12-percent this year, Clearwater might resume the discussion of outsourcing its own policing to the Sheriff, a discussion that Mayor Frank Hibbard last year said was "put to bed, hopefully for a long time."
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