Merger Opponents Stuck on Lack of Law Enforcement Clause

By Langhorne, Thomas B. | Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current), November 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

Merger Opponents Stuck on Lack of Law Enforcement Clause


Langhorne, Thomas B., Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)


It is a pointed question - some would say a taunt - hurled by opponents of Evansville-Vanderburgh County government consolidation nearly every chance they get. If costs savings was a goal of the reorganization plan voters will judge in a referendum Tuesday, then why was law enforcement merger left out of the plan?

"We did not combine law enforcement, and that was a huge expenditure where we could have saved about $2.3 million," the Rev. Adrian Brooks Sr. said during an Oct. 17 consolidation debate. "So, if it was to reduce costs, then we left that out there."

In 2010, Brad Hill, then chief of the Evansville Police Department, estimated more than $2.2 million in savings over a period as long as 20 years by eliminating dozens of sheriff's office jobs by attrition. Hill's department and the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office would not have merged under his proposal.

Brooks had ideas of his own at the time. Then a member of the citizens committee charged with crafting a consolidation proposal, he suggested a metro police commissioner appointed by the mayor as an administrator and law enforcement chief. He also touted a proposal for the sheriff to appoint the police chief.

But other consolidation opponents who have said merging law enforcement could have led to big savings have a ready answer when asked if they would support consolidating police and sheriff's departments.

"I haven't seen a plan I would have liked," said county Treasurer Rick Davis.

Bruce Ungethiem, co-chairman of Citizens Opposed to Reorganization in Evansville, has said including law enforcement merger in the consolidation plan would have saved millions - if costs savings truly was the goal of consolidation. But when asked if he supports merging law enforcement, Ungethiem said he wasn't saying that.

In other ways, the messages on law enforcement merger haven't always been consistent.

The local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, which is actively opposing consolidation, argues that merging law enforcement agencies actually would cost millions.

FOP activists say law enforcement consolidations in other cities have shown it would cost millions of dollars to merge the two law enforcement agencies' pension plans, insurance, wage structure and equipment. Consolidation supporters counter that such a blending could save millions instead, depending on its execution.

Davis said many prominent supporters of consolidation are current and former elected officials who could have already merged law enforcement. He named Mayor Lloyd Winnecke, former Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, Sheriff Eric Williams and County Commissioners Marsha Abell and Joe Kiefer.

Winnecke, who was elected mayor in November 2011, was president of the County Commissioners when the commissioners and the City Council decided last year to drop law enforcement merger from the reorganization plan. In its place is language prohibiting changes in the law enforcement structure until 2024. …

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