Bergen County, New Jersey Law Enforcement Consolidation

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Background

Many reports recommended consolidation of agencies to reduce redundancy and duplication of effort. Most of these recommendations addressed activity across departments with similar missions. For example, the Colorado study recommended consolidating all economic development agencies into a single department, with a potential $4 million in efficiency gains. The Cleveland report recommended improving efficiency by consolidating human resources (HR) functions across its existing HR and civil service departments. The Albany County report recommends consolidation of functions across the Youth Bureau and Parks Department, which would save nearly $600,000 a year. Other reports recommended consolidation of legal or maintenance functions across departments. 

Consolidating agencies or functions within an agency can be challenging because human nature resists change, especially when the new approach is yet untested. And, yet, consolidation can be achieved with sufficient leadership and vision. The example below demonstrates how important it is to have a leader willing to commit to the success of the consolidation program. 

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Consolidation defined

When two departments perform similar functions in government, combining them can improve efficiency of operations, improve quality of service, and reduce redundancy and duplication of administrative effort. Consolidation of functions streamlines government by combining similar activities in one department or agency rather than multiple separate ones. 

Often, the separate but similar departments have existed separately, each with their own history, culture, and administrative infrastructure. If rivalry among the departments causes turf battles, public funds can be squandered in the internecine competition among the departments. Typically, a single mission-focused department will be a more efficient use of public funds.    

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Bergen County, New Jersey: Successful consolidation of law enforcement operations

In January 2015, on his first day as county executive of Bergen County, New Jersey, James Tedesco signed a 29-page memorandum of agreement consolidating the county’s law enforcement operations. With the stroke of a pen, he improved response time for 911 calls, increased quality of specialized law enforcement functions, and eliminated administrative redundancies in county police and sheriff agencies. Tedesco said of the consolidation, “This is a win for the taxpayers, law enforcement, and county government.” The move is estimated to save taxpayers between $90 and $200 million over 25 years.

It was a victory years in the making. The matter had been under study for half a decade, with a commission producing a detailed report in 2012 laying out options to reduce redundancy across police and sheriff operations. A previous study had also examined these overlaps and had recommended a hiring freeze in the affected agencies until redundancies could be addressed and laid out the options for consolidating police and sheriff duties in the county.

Not only was the project long studied, it was publicly debated. Tedesco campaigned on a promise to consolidate law enforcement and his opponent campaigned against the move. Therefore, by electing Tedesco, the public spoke in favor of the consolidation plan.

The move consolidated the police department, with a staff of 103, into the sheriff’s department, with a staff of 152, creating a combined force of 255 officers. A key factor in the success of the consolidation was a promise that no one would lose their job. The consolidation achieves its financial benefits solely through attrition, with a goal of reducing staffing by 19% to achieve a staffing level of 201 officers. The number of officers in the combined force is reported as being “far in excess” of what is needed to effectively patrol, so public safety was not adversely affected.

Operationally, the consolidation means that:

  • Deployment of patrol officers will be done geographically by the combined force, reducing overlap of patrol areas and decreasing response times since each officer will patrol a more concentrated area.
     
  • Instead of having two separate specialized units for highway patrol, investigations, training, and SWAT, there is a single integrated unit for each function.
     
  • Police personnel engaged in non-mission activities (HR, payroll, fleet management, etc.) are transferred to other county positions since their functions already exist in the sheriff’s office. 
     
  • Civilians take on certain non-core law enforcement functions of the police department, lowering cost to provide the service; for example, support positions at the county Medical Examiner’s office had been staffed by police officers. IT operations move to the county prosecutor’s office, creating an integrated information technology system. Dispatch functions are consolidated countywide into the existing communications center.

Advice from County Executive Tedesco includes the following:

  • “Do your homework.  We thoroughly studied the issues, delved into the agencies and uncovered the redundancies, we spoke to law enforcement professionals and stakeholders who advised on appropriate staffing levels and helped identify areas to work on.”
     
  • “Have a plan. We worked on putting a cohesive plan together from what we learned and fine-tuned it then we made sure we spoke to residents and media outlets and anyone who would listen about why our plan would work. The issue had been debated for years and I made sure to stick to my plan and my ideas."
     
  • “The savings are real.  We knew the savings both short and long term would be substantial. Our calculations showed a minimum savings of $90 million to upwards of $200 million over a 25 year period. We also knew there would be ancillary savings which would add to that total over time including administration, purchasing, payroll, IT, fuel, vehicle parts, and maintenance. We were able to sell the old police headquarters which auctioned for a price of $10 million dollars.”

Results of this consolidation are a strong proof point of what can be done.  This county improved public safety while reducing redundancy and cost, all in the service of better government.   

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