Who's the Boss? 

Local law enforcement heads differ on how consolidation should work and who will be in charge.

When city and county police forces in Charlotte, North Carolina, merged 15 years ago, someone was forced to give up his title.

The city police chief was granted the highest role in the consolidated force, while the county chief (similar in role to Shelby County's elected sheriff) was moved to the position of "deputy chief."

"The former county chief became deputy over police services in the unincorporated areas of the county," says Darrellyn Kiser, assistant to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief.

Earlier this month, Shelby County commissioner Mike Carpenter and Memphis city councilman Jack Sammons co-sponsored resolutions to form a joint city/county committee to look into consolidating the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office (SCSO). That committee will be charged with deciding if consolidating is a good idea and, if so, who should lead a merged force.

"The [new head] should be an appointed position. It should be a part of the executive branch, as it is now," says MPD director Larry Godwin.

Godwin, himself an appointed official, says appointed officials cannot sue the city when problems arise.

But Shelby County sheriff Mark Luttrell sees things differently.

"The head of a new organization needs to be directly accountable to the people, not buried two or three steps down in a bureaucracy," says Luttrell, an elected official.

Though full consolidation has never been tried in Shelby County, the departments attempted some merging of units several years back (called functional consolidation). The former metro DUI unit and the gang unit pulled officers from both city and county police forces, but those were disbanded under Godwin's leadership.

"Those fell by the wayside because the city doesn't think functional consolidation is the way to go," Luttrell says. "I think it's still valid." But Godwin says consolidation is an all-or-nothing issue.

"With functional consolidation, you're working for two agency heads," Godwin says. "When you need those resources, they're already committed, and you don't always have the control to yank them away."

Full consolidation of the departments would also mean a merger of tactics. Currently, the MPD focuses much of its attention on crime hotspots. The SCSO puts more emphasis on building relationships with community members and faith-based organizations.

"If you were to combine the two forces, you would have to combine those philosophies as well," says Mike Heidingsfield of the Shelby County Crime Commission.

"There's a huge number of issues to be worked out," Kiser says. "Does everyone keep their same rank and position? How do you consolidate salary schedules? What about benefits packages? All of that took us about two years to iron out."


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