|Work smarter but keep the Gering Police Department|
|February 24, 2011 Al and Lois Herbel|
The following is a letter written on Feb. 15 by Lois and Al Herbel to the Gering City Council members concerning the proposed merger of the Gering and Scottsbluff police departments. A condensed version of the letter was published in the Feb. 24 edition of the Gering Citizen as a guest editorial. Below is the letter in its entirety.
To: Gering City Council
It will be necessary for us to be out of town on February 24, 2011, the date for the combined city councils meeting. Therefore, we are writing to you to encourage you to vote “no” on any consolidation of the Scottsbluff and Gering Police Departments. This request is based on information given to the public in the form of newspaper articles and information discussed at city meetings. Listed below are some of our concerns with this proposal.
• No financial savings will be realized from employee salaries. The combined departments create a situation of comparability with larger departments across the state for salary negotiations which calls for higher salaries. No savings would be realized for many years, if ever.
• Costs to consolidate appear one way on paper but, in actuality, could end up costing more than projected. There are always unanticipated costs that cause projects to cost more than was predicted. Consolidation of the police departments would be no different.
• The additional costs in making the departments consistent have not been addressed in the studies. A consolidated department would need to have standardization throughout the department. That means weapons, badges, fleet, uniforms, letterheads, and other essential equipment would need to be purchased so both departments are standardized. These costs have not been addressed.
• Gering City Council would lose all control over the police department. As it stands now, Gering needs can be addressed by Gering City Council to improve quality of life for Gering residents, but consolidation would take that away. Gering would be at the mercy of Scottsbluff Council or some sort of joint service agency. Gering’s needs could easily be tabled or ignored because Gering would have relinquished control to another agency.
• Residents would be asked to pay an additional tax to support consolidation. Presently, we pay a city tax which funds the Gering Police Department but we do not pay an additional tax for protection. However, with consolidation, taxpayers would be asked to pay the additional tax as well as the city tax. Gering City Council, as a whole, will lose any power to control this new tax or how it is spent.
• If a joint service agency is formed, how would agency members be trained to govern police departments? It will be very easy for this agency and the chief of police to become quite political.
• If a joint service agency is formed, it was stated that the agency would be comprised of 1-2 council members from each city council. Gering has 8 council members and Scottsbluff has 4. If 2 council members from each city are members of the agency, Scottsbluff would have 50% of their council represented and Gering would have 25% of their council represented. Gering City Council would be at a disadvantage in representation to the joint service council.
• Recently, consolidation information has been presented by Scottsbluff only. We have not heard from Gering Police chief, Gering patrol officers, Gering captains, etc. The presentations have come from one department. If Gering Police Department is in the background prior to consolidation, one can only assume what could happen after consolidation. If consolidated, we see this one-sidedness continuing to be an ongoing and a growing problem.
• We need to hear from both Scottsbluff and Gering officers on the street. We have only heard from administration. Many are fearful of retaliation but the patrol officers have much “in the trenches” knowledge that could help in this decision and their information is being ignored.
• Living in Gering is different than living in Scottsbluff. Gering has a more relaxed, small-town atmosphere than Scottsbluff. We have something that most communities do not have – a choice of which city we would like to reside. Bigger is not always better and often times is less sustainable. We need to appreciate this luxury we have and capitalize on it.
• Gering and Scottsbluff are similar in location only. The cities are very different in philosophies, form of government, needs, crime rates, crime types, etc. If consolidated, it appears that it could be very difficult for Scottsbluff to understand Gering’s problems. Therefore, we could expect very little resolution when the need arises for such things as more staff, different ordinances, equipment, training, etc.
• Ordinances are not uniform. Gering needs are different than Scottsbluff and does not need uniform ordinances between the two cities. Ordinances need to be written to deal with situations at hand, not written for both cities because the other has to address a specific need.
• Several enticements have been mentioned in this consolidation proposal (Gering schools could have a resource officer, Gering could have another beat, there would be a child abuse investigator, 12 hour shifts, etc.) However, nothing has been mentioned as to when those enticements would be put into place. We know some of those enticements have been mentioned for years and they have never been implemented. After a consolidation is in place, there is no guarantee those enticements would become reality or they could be implemented and discontinued shortly afterwards. As funding becomes an issue, those enticements would be the first to be eliminated. Consolidation is not needed to implement these enticements because they could be implemented at any time without consolidation.
• Regarding 12 hour shifts, criminals don’t work shifts and they commit crimes at anytime during a shift. How will 12 hour shifts save overtime when officers respond to calls toward the end of shifts and then must write their reports? We wonder how many times report writing can not be completed in the 1 ˝ hours at the end of shifts. Will the exhausted report writer be more or less accurate at the end of shift with longer duty days? How will reliability of those late hour reports affect court cases?
• Currently, Scottsbluff and Gering Police Departments, as well as Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Department and Nebraska State Patrol, share personnel, equipment and mutual aid. We would highly recommend that this cooperation, sharing of resources and support to Scottsbluff continue.
• Consolidation will only lead to more hard feelings between the two communities. One could blame the other when services are not rendered as expected. Over the last several years, efforts to create harmony between the two communities have been a priority. We foresee this police consolidation actually working in reverse if it were to take place.
• Scottsbluff Police Department is understaffed and often short-handed. This is not a new development but has been the standard mode of operation for the past few years. Since they have failed to fully staff their department, when would full staffing finally occur? How would they be required to keep their department fully staffed so officers are not pulled from Gering to cover the larger amount of crime that Scottsbluff experiences? We definitely foresee that Gering will lack adequate coverage in the event of consolidation. We do not see any concrete evidence, other than promises, that indicate otherwise.
• With Scottsbluff Police Department understaffed, attrition seems to have already taken place in that agency. Yet, in reality, Scottsbluff is still short-handed many times and must call on other agencies for assistance, require their officers to work on their scheduled days-off or work extended shifts, require supervisors to work beats, etc. If the departments were consolidated, Scottsbluff would probably be using Gering officers to alleviate staffing shortages they are currently experiencing.
• It has been suggested that a chief and two captains would be retained in a consolidated department. The remaining chief and two captains would be demoted but receive the same salary. How demoralizing it would be to be the chief and captains who were demoted! They posses the skills and abilities to perform the tasks of the job yet they would not be allowed to do so. This seems to be a real waste of talent and skills. Those who had been demoted might want to seek chief/captain positions with other agencies. How is a demotion going to be viewed by future potential employers? The demotion would be no fault to the employee but a future employer is not going to know that. How would sergeants view demoted captains receiving more pay for doing the same job the sergeants are doing? Would the demoted chief/captains receive annual raises like the other employees or would their salaries be frozen until it equaled the other sergeants? No morale building would take place with this decision.
• We have been told that through attrition, money would be saved. In reality, the departments do not have extra manpower now. We do not foresee a situation where attrition can ever take place to save additional budgeted funds.
• Since Gering has statistical proof of less crime and is considered a safer community, our seasoned officers could be placed or called into coverage of heavier Scottsbluff crime scenes. Logic follows that new officers will be sent to Gering for lighter duty to begin their law enforcement experience while experienced officers could be assigned beats in Scottsbluff. Once again, Gering would be at a disadvantage if new or inexperienced officers were only placed in Gering.
• Scottsbluff seems to have more difficulty with their budget than Gering. (ex: funding shortcomings for their cemetery, the zoo, fire department, etc). When Scottsbluff makes cuts to the budget, Gering police department could expect to be affected negatively if the departments were consolidated. Without consolidation, Gering is not affected by Scottsbluff’s budget.
• If consolidation results, Gering City Council and City Administrator will not have any control over the hiring and firing of the officers placed in Gering. They will not have control over who goes to training, what training the officers in Gering receive, or how often officers receive training. Gering’s crime rate is considerably less than Scottsbluff so one would wonder if the officers in Gering would receive less training. How will a joint service agency ensure Gering officers receive the same amount of training as officers in Scottsbluff? How often would officers receive training? Who determines who goes to training, or what training is needed?
• If combining Gering with Scottsbluff, we need to open the position of Police Chief to a nation-wide search and application process. We deserve a chief who has the experience, background and knowledge to blend two departments. We deserve someone we can all trust for our communities’ best interest. To our knowledge, neither chief nor any of the 4 captains have that expertise.
• Before any consolidation of agencies would take place, an external review of each agency needs to be conducted. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each agency? How are they working internally as far as following written policies, morale of officers, the scheduling of trainings for officers, etc.? Both have unions but how is that working for each department? Having an unbiased team come in and evaluate each agency is critical for Gering’s best interest. Why would we want our officers to join another force without knowing how that force is really functioning? That knowledge would come from examination of practices that exist when following policies, viewing the policies and procedures, interviewing employees at the administration and patrol levels, etc.
• Currently, Gering Police Department has a very excellent response time. Gering officers working in a much larger area with train tracks to cross would decrease the response time for Gering residents immensely.
• Distance in responding to Gering will inevitability increase the fuel budget, a cost that must be added to the expense of consolidation. This budget item would probably never decrease due to increased fuel usage and rising fuel prices in increasing response distance. This budget increase goes against efforts to otherwise be more sustainable.
• Economic development will be negatively affected for businesses of Gering with the consolidation. Scottsbluff and Gering Police Departments do not use the same facility to supply fuel, tires, etc. for their patrol fleets. With consolidation, the supplier of these goods would probably not be a Gering business. Gering officers patronize Gering food establishments during meal times. Those businesses could expect less patronization if consolidation were to happen. Both of these items affect the amount of sales tax Gering would collect, which is vital so several programs/projects continue and property tax relief is realized. Our downtown business world has decline greatly and we need to encourage as much business as possible.
• In order to strive to be more sustainable, a community needs to be walkable with services and business accessible to the residents. In a consolidated police department, the main office would be in Scottsbluff. Currently, the location of the main office in Gering is easily accessible to our residents. In order to be more sustainable, Gering needs to protect the walkability of its community.
• We strongly believe that implementation of the city sustainability plan will do more to conserve current and future city budgets than any possible financial savings that could result from a police consolidation. Even on paper, there appears to be no financial savings, immediately or within the next several years. However, by embedding the sustainability plan into daily city operations, savings could be realized immediately.
When marketing our communities, we need to advertise the resources we have and build on them. We have two distinct, unique communities that provide diversity to the residents of this area. We need to capitalize on that and promote it to others that might want to re-locate here. Let’s not destroy what we have, but instead let us promote it.
We need to work smarter but keep our police department as Gering’s. We need to continue to work with, be supportive and cooperative with Scottsbluff. We need to be the best neighbor we can be without giving away ourselves and our city. We encourage the Gering City Council to vote “no” on any consolidation option.
Read more by Al and Lois Herbel