Amy Rinard Of The Journal Sentinel Staff December 24, 2000 Sunday Final Edition Copyright 2000 Journal Sentinel Inc. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel December 24, 2000 Sunday Final Edition
(MILWAUKEE, Wisc.) -- The Wisconsin Counties Association is calling for county sheriff's departments across the state to take over municipal police departments to consolidate all law enforcement activities under county control.
"We do believe this would be an answer to the problem of duplication of services as well as being more cost-effective," said Craig Thompson, legislative director for the association.
But the idea of a single countywide law enforcement agency was immediately criticized by the president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association and declared unworkable by a Milwaukee official.
"I don't think that idea is going to fly," said Hans Lux, chief of the Village of Eagle Police Department in Waukesha County and president of the state association of police chiefs. "We've proven municipal law enforcement is the most efficient means of providing law enforcement services," he said.
Patrick Curley, director of intergovernmental relations for the City of Milwaukee, said that he was open to the idea of sharing services between the city and county but that a takeover of the city's police department by the county did not seem like an idea with much potential. "I don't see one countywide police department happening anytime soon," Curley said.
The idea was endorsed by the board of directors of the counties association on Dec. 15. Thompson said it was an attempt to address the complaints made by many municipal officials about the "double whammy" property tax effect. The term refers to municipal residents paying taxes to support their local police departments while also paying taxes to pay for sheriff's department services that they do not use.
Consolidating all law enforcement services under county control would eliminate that duplication of services and the double taxation effect, Thompson said. He said that under such a plan, the number of police officers in any one county probably would remain the same. "They'd just have a different boss," Thompson said.
Consolidating the administration of all law enforcement services would save money, said Thompson. Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley, who is on the board of directors of the counties association, said the board concluded there were only two ways to solve the duplication of police services in a county: eliminate the county sheriff's department or eliminate all municipal police departments.
"Sure, this is a controversial idea," Finley said. "The proposal is recommending the abolition of municipal police departments, which will get police chiefs in the state of Wisconsin upset. But it's offered in the context of the work of the Kettl Commission, where the governor said he wanted to see bold ideas."
Gov. Tommy G. Thompson created the Blue Ribbon Commission on State and Local Partnerships, led by University of Wisconsin professor Don Kettl, to look at ways to change the relationships between different levels of government and the way state aid is paid to municipalities. Late last week, the commission recommended that $170 million a year in state sales tax revenue be given to municipalities that share services regionally.
Finley said part of the reason the counties association endorsed the proposal was to "show how difficult it is to change the system." Curley questioned the rationale of the counties association in coming up with the proposal to eliminate municipal police departments in favor of a countywide law enforcement system.
"Anybody can come up with a bold idea, but this doesn't seem like there's a lot of thought behind it," he said. "The chances of us talking about it are a lot better than the chances of it happening." The idea of one law enforcement agency in every county run by county government is contrary to the trends in police work that emphasize community policing, Lux said. It's hard to put a price tag on the value of local police officers getting to know the people who live in the neighborhoods they patrol and being able to respond to local law enforcement needs, Lux said.
Jeffrey Wiswell, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, said the organization has not taken a position on consolidating law enforcement services under one command. "But I can predict we would at this point be open-minded on it," Wiswell said.