published Thursday, August 11th, 2011

No big savings in Dalton-Whitfield police consolidation, chief says

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DALTON, Ga. -- Consolidating the Dalton Police Department and the law enforcement part of the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office might be more efficient in some ways, but it is not clear whether the consolidation would save a significant amount of money, according to Dalton Police Chief Jason Parker.

In a one-hour presentation to the charter commission Wednesday afternoon, Parker provided a detailed report about his department and several possible ways the two agencies could consolidate. The 15-member commission is studying whether the county and city would benefit from consolidation and looking at the best way to join departments.

Maj. John Gibson with the sheriff's office also answered questions about a potential consolidation.

Even if the two departments consolidated, the sheriff's office would remain a separate entity that oversees the jail and court security, as ordered by state law. The sheriff's office now provides law enforcement services at the request of the County Commission but is not obligated to do so.

Because neither department would be eliminated, consolidation likely would not save that much in administration costs, Parker said.

Consolidation would allow for wider deployment of technology, better sharing of data and intelligence, an easier analysis of crime in the whole county and the ability to monitor and adjust demand for services, Parker said.

"Criminals certainly don't respect city limit signs," he said. "It would allow us to get information together and analyze crime information more easily."

The two departments already share a dispatching service but do not use the same networks and computer systems.

The police department has 97 members and about 50 patrol officers to patrol 20 square miles, while the sheriff's office patrols 290 square miles with 43 patrol officers. However, the city receives about 46 percent of the total calls for service in the county.

The police department is overseen by a public safety commission, which provides civilian control, Parker said. Most Georgia police departments report to a city manager and city council.

Both departments have had cuts in recent years, with the police department cutting 17 positions since 2008.

Parker said the department was "OK" with its current staffing and services, but he did not think more cuts could be made, even with consolidation.

He estimated that the combined agency would have a budget of about $11.4 million to $12.3 million. The police department's budget was $6.7 million in 2011, while the sheriff's office's was $6.4 million.

The initial consolidation, such as buying patrol cars, combining salaries and switching to the same technology, would cost about $2.4 million, Parker said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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