Indianapolis Star Editorial

Police Merger Can be Catalyst for Change and Progress

December 19, 2005
Our position: Council needs to seize opportunity to merge county's two major police agencies.

It's a night for second chances.

Members of the City-County Council, who by a single vote last month defeated a plan to merge the Indianapolis Police Department with the Marion County Sheriff's Department, have the opportunity tonight to correct that error in judgment and push the community forward by approving a revised plan for consolidation.

Why vote for the admittedly controversial plan to merge the departments? Here are five reasons:

1. It's about the money. Crime is on the rise in the city and county, but neither government has enough money to respond as effectively as needed. Consolidation can generate efficiencies that will allow more dollars -- more than $4 million a year -- to be used where they're needed most: Fighting crime on the streets.

2. Sheriff Frank Anderson, like his predecessor, makes a compelling argument that his department needs hundreds of additional deputies to provide adequate protection for growing suburban townships. But the county -- because of its financial problems -- can't begin to add more deputies under the current setup.

The city already is cutting 78 police positions and may have to lay off 48 more. Tax rates either will have to go much higher or greater efficiencies will have to be found to save and eventually add back police positions. We vote for efficiency.

3. Uni-Gov has served the community well for more than three decades by pulling disparate parts of the city together and streamlining some segments of local government. Merging the community's two major police departments is the next logical move in the effort Mayor Richard Lugar began in the 1960s. Lugar and those who have followed him in the mayor's office have proven through years of practice that Uni-Gov works. It's time to take the next step.

4. Marion County's criminal justice system is broken. Thousands of suspected criminals have been released early because of crowding at the jail. Courts are clogged, and prosecutors and public defenders are overwhelmed. The police merger can be the start of a much-needed overhaul of Marion County's public safety system. If council members refuse to take part in a bipartisan vote for consolidation, it's unlikely they will take the risks necessary to fix the jail or the courts.

5. As important as it is, the police merger is only a beginning. The state legislature next month will begin considering proposals to consolidate several fire departments in Marion County, a move that would reap even greater savings than the police merger. A no vote tonight, however, would kill any momentum that the fire department merger might gain.

It's a critical night for this community's future. The council must set aside partisan and personal considerations and protect this city's best interests by approving police consolidation.