Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Clearwater explores price tag of Police Department vs. Sheriff's Office

CLEARWATER — There used to be a Dunedin Police Department, just like there used to be police departments in Safety Harbor and Belleair Beach and Oldsmar.

Not anymore. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office patrols all that turf now. One by one, those cities jettisoned their police forces and contracted with the sheriff to save money.

Now Clearwater is the latest Pinellas city to ask the question: How much would it cost for the Sheriff's Office to police our streets?

Clearwater officials are approaching this subject with extreme reluctance. They have no intention of disbanding the Clearwater Police Department. They doubt the sheriff can save the city enough money to make such a drastic move worthwhile. They just hired a new police chief. In fact, they're only asking for a proposal from Sheriff Jim Coats in hopes of putting this issue behind them.

"I'm just so tired of hearing about this every year," said Vice Mayor Paul Gibson. "I would truly like to get this off the table and not have to deal with it again."

However, even if the city rejects the sheriff's offer this year, the issue may not go away permanently. Like other Florida cities, Clearwater is facing a long-term budget crunch due to declining tax revenues.

• • •

With 400 employees, Clearwater's $37 million Police Department is the single biggest chunk of the city's budget.

The sheriff has previously floated the idea that he could save Clearwater $10 million a year by taking over law enforcement.

Clearwater leaders doubt that.

"The only realistic way the sheriff could reduce the cost of law enforcement in the city would be to cut the number of officers available on the street at any one time," former police Chief Sid Klein said before retiring last month. "It costs the Sheriff's Office basically the same amount of money to put a deputy in a cruiser, compared to a municipal police officer in the same car."

City Council members have repeatedly said: If we just wanted to cut police service, we could do that ourselves.

Still, the sheriff is confident he can offer some real savings in his proposal, which will come in the next couple of weeks. "There are some redundancies to some degree between the two agencies," Coats said.

For instance, Clearwater has its own police dispatch center with 42 employees. But county sheriffs who take over law enforcement in a city will often consolidate dispatch centers, said Steve Casey of the Florida Sheriff's Association.

The Dunedin example

People in Dunedin thought they would never get rid of their Police Department either. Yet, that's what they did in 1995 after nine months of contentious debate that split the city.

It had seemed unlikely to happen, especially after 8,000 Dunedin police supporters signed petitions. But finally, after nearly 100 years on the beat, the Dunedin Police Department was abolished by a City Commission vote of 3-2.

Dunedin was the last sizeable Pinellas city to make the switch. Madeira Beach and Belleair Bluffs eliminated their police forces that same year. Belleair Beach did it in 2007.

Dunedin, with less than half of Clearwater's population, has estimated it saves $2 million a year by contracting with the sheriff. It just released a 63-page analysis of law enforcement in Dunedin in which a team of consultants said the city is getting "outstanding" service from the Sheriff's Office at a lower cost than operating a Police Department.

Large cities resist

If the sheriff had his way, all law enforcement in the county would be consolidated under his office's jurisdiction. Aside from cost savings, Coats touts his agency's training and record of responsiveness — not to mention a broad range of services, including an "air force" of planes and helicopters.

That's why the Sheriff's Office patrols not only unincorporated Pinellas County but also a dozen of its municipalities.

On the other side of the argument, many cities strongly believe that no one can serve their residents better than local police. All of Pinellas' biggest cities — St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pinellas Park and Largo — have their own departments.

Any attempt to dismantle Clearwater's police force would likely be met with fierce resistance from many residents.

Also, Clearwater has its own consultants' study to point to.

Last year, consultants who examined its police force found that it was efficiently run and not too top-heavy with administrators. They concluded the city wouldn't save much by switching to the Sheriff's Office.

Clearwater's new police chief, Tony Holloway, summed it up: "An outside company said the department is very efficient and well-organized."

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater explores price tag of Police Department vs. Sheriff's Office 03/27/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 27, 2010 3:32pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  2. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Those wide-open, end-to-end, shoot-at-will games are a lot of fun to watch, especially when those shots are going in the net. But if the players had their druthers, they would rather have a more controlled pace, one with which they can dictate the action.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  4. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  5. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.