Contracting police services: Who wins and who loses?

To a very real extent, the 'winner' is determined by which side has the more effective negotiator


In my state, the trend of small towns contracting with the local sheriff’s office for law enforcement services is growing. 

The county I work in and the county I live in both have towns that are paying for the sheriff’s office to patrol their towns. 

But is this beneficial to the sheriff’s office and to the town? Is it beneficial to the citizens of the town and is it fair to the county citizens and tax payers?

Fair Market Value(?)
Here is the premise: The small town negotiates a price with the sheriff’s office to provide police services. For X amount of dollars, they negotiate manpower hours, even fully fund deputy positions and pay for vehicles and equipment.

There really are no guidelines as to what can or cannot be negotiated, so it’s almost like buying a new car. It boils down to who is the better negotiator — the city manager or the county commissioners.

One town may negotiate a contract with the sheriff’s office for, let’s say $500,000. That contract may supply two or three deputies at 40 hours a week, plus vehicles. 

So, who owns the vehicles, the county or the city?

That adds another ‘negotiable’ problem. 

The cost and the services provided can vary greatly. Another city may only negotiate to pay for one deputy for 40 hours a week. 

In our state, the responsibility of law enforcement in towns or cities that do not have a police department falls on the county sheriff. So, if a small town is not contracting services, they are still provided with law enforcement. 

So if a town pays for 40 hours a week in coverage, they still get the other 128 hours of the week coverage anyway, without paying for it. 

Half Full, Half Empty, or Just Two Halves?
So, on one side of the argument — the small town’s side of the argument — a logical person would say why pay for any of it when you get it for free anyway? 

Often their response is, “We get an exclusive deputy patrolling just our city for 40 hours a week, the other times there may or may not be a deputy in our town.”

The sheriff’s department’s argument would be just the opposite. 

“We have to provide services anyway, so why not negotiate a way to turn some of it into revenue?” 

If the contract is a fair and economical contract, I think it is safe to say that the small town is coming out the winner. However, if the small town’s contract isn’t making sense, or in other words, it would be more economical for them to have their own police force, then they are not winning.

A newer trend along the same lines is beginning to emerge as well, seeing larger cities contracting with smaller cities... sometimes not even in the same county.

How do you feel about these “contracted” police departments? Do you see any liability issues? How about training issues? Any legal challenges or chain of command issues? How about policy issues? Is the contracted officer going by his employer’s standard operating procedures or a whole new list of policies that the contracted town has written?

If you have experience in this arena or are an expert on this topic or just an officer with an opinion, now’s your chance to sound off.

Stay safe out there.

About the author

Lt. Hawkes is a 23-year police veteran. In addition to his years of highway drug interdiction, Lt. Hawkes has worked in patrol, K9, investigations, narcotics, and administration. He holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Dallas Baptist University and is a graduate of the Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Justice Leadership and Administration from the University of Texas at Dallas.  He has been the recipient of both State and Local awards, including the Medal of Valor. His book, Secrets of Successful Highway Interdiction, which can be purchased here, contains eleven chapters on Highway Drug Interdiction.

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