These are tough economic times for California and the United States. The unemployment rate is 9.1 percent for America, 12.4 percent for California, and 14.2 percent for Del Norte County.
Taxes are down because income is down. Budgets are strained. This country is in a recession. Del Norte County is no exception to the dwindling budget syndrome. The city of Crescent City anticipates at $250,000 deficit in its budget commencing July 1, 2012.
A few weeks back Sheriff Dean Wilson spoke about his role as the county’s top cop in the Sept. 3 Triplicate article “Tea Party Sheriff: Dean Wilson is filling two high-profile roles in county.” I listen very carefully when the sheriff speaks. He has his pulse on the community and when he comments, I pay attention.
Sheriff Wilson referred to the possibility that a merging of law enforcement agencies in Del Norte County would cut significant duplicative services to the community and save the taxpayers money. Formerly, I lived in the medium-sized city of Santa Clarita, about 180,000, which contracted both its fire and law enforcement to Los Angeles County, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
I ask the question; should the Crescent City Police Department merge with the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office in an effort to save money?
As Sheriff Wilson correctly points out, money is not the main issue here. Crescent City’s identity has been forged over 150 years. Merging services would be emotionally costly to the city. Though I do believe the community was and is currently well served by our highly trained deputies and police officers, I am pleased there is a boundary separating the city from the county.
Police Chief Doug Plack is an appointed public employee and serves at the pleasure of the Crescent City Council and City Manager Eugene Palazzo. The city’s input on the Police Department is weighty. It should be. In many ways, the Crescent City Police Department is the face of the community. Losing that identity is not in Crescent City’s best interest.
Sheriff Wilson is an elected public official. He serves a four-ear term and can be re-elected to his “job” by Del Norte County voters.
Any possible merger would also involve absorbing additional liability. Regrettably, we live in a very litigious society. It is more than common that those arrested often go the way of a lawsuit to exonerate themselves. Sad, but true, many in the community sue.
Defending even frivolous lawsuits is costly; none one can deny that.
I would hope that both departments could find common ground in developing a combined Crescent City/Del Norte County crime lab. Currently, the state handles all lab work. Wouldn’t it be realistic to keep as much law enforcement data locally compared to shipping it off to Sacramento?
Additionally, all Del Norte County law enforcement agencies meet monthly to discuss mutual issues of concern. The California Highway Patrol, the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, the Yurok Tribal Police and the Crescent City Police Department all meet officially in group called LEADN: Law Enforcement Administrators of Del Norte County.
My respect for both departments is profound.
The city of Crescent City and Del Norte County will have to find new avenues of income to supplant projected anticipated deficits.
It’s an idea worth looking into when there is no other option. I say keep the departments separate and keep both healthy and strong. After all, it’s our safety that is at risk.
Roger Gitlin of Crescent City is a retired teacher and member of the Del Norte County Tea Party.