An analysis of the merger of two police departments in Allegheny County found that the budget for the combined department is significantly less than the total the two communities were paying before the merger.
The Allegheny Institute for Public Policy looked at the merger of the police departments in the borough of Cheswick and Springdale Township, two neighboring municipalities of similar geographic and population sizes.
Cheswick, pre-merger, was spending $324,945 on its policing, which included a police chief and part-time officers for the community with a population of 1,746. Springdale Township, population 1,615, was spending $373,364 for two-full time officers and a number of part-time officers. Combined, the communities were spending about $700,000 on police.
After the merger, which went into effect in June, the new police force with a chief, one full-time officer and six part-time officers is budgeted to spend $449,839 – $224,919 for each municipality.
“The Allegheny Institute has advocated for service consolidation (along with mergers and privatization) to be explored and encouraged in order to save taxpayer dollars,” the institute’s analysis by researchers Eric Montarti and Hannah Bowser said. “Not all consolidations go forward – a proposed regional force involving Sharpsburg, Aspinwall, O’Hara and Blawnox was not recommended because it would have meant higher costs. Another in the Mon Valley is currently being studied.”
The Montarti and Bowser analysis noted that a study by the Governor’s Center for Local Government Services had looked into the potential positives and negatives of a police merger for the two communities.
“The study noted advantages of regional policing including improvement in uniformity and consistency of enforcement; coordination of law-enforcement services; recruitment, distribution and deployment of police personnel; training and personnel efficiency; management and supervision; career enhancement opportunities and in reducing costs,” the institute noted.
Among the negatives were the potential for loss of control and direct contact by local residents and the loss of rank by members of the existing forces.
“In a 2014 report by the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) on police consolidation, loss of municipal control was the main obstacle identified in forming regional police departments with labor issues close behind,” the Montarti and Bowser analysis noted.
Allegheny County has generally seen less consolidation of local police forces than the rest of Pennsylvania. The institute said that 80 percent of the county’s municipalities still have their own local police force, while for the rest of the state that number is only 35 percent. Many communities statewide have opted to merge with neighbors or simply dissolved the local police force and rely on coverage by Pennsylvania State Police.
Montarti and Bowser suggested that consolidation, while potentially an effective way to decrease local costs, isn’t automatically a good idea.
“The LBFC report found that a sample of regional police departments cost approximately 25 percent less than stand-alone departments but some had increased costs in initial years after formation,” they wrote. “As such, residents of Cheswick and Springdale Township ought to keep a vigilant eye to see if the savings occur and ultimately translate into lower taxes.”