June 20, 2013Grosse Pointe Park — "This is like a marriage. It can either be forced or it can be a long, loving relationship."
That's how the consolidation of the City of Grosse Pointe and Grosse Pointe Park's public safety departments was presented to officials at a special joint city council meeting last week in Grosse Pointe Park.
The two groups met at a special 8 a.m. Friday, June 14, meeting to hear a presentation by Thomas J. Wieczorek, director of the International City/County Management Association Center for Public Safety. He was retained by the two cities to analyze the feasibility of combining public safety services.
"Consolidation is possible," Wieczorek told the councils. "It makes sense. You already work together, and when anything big happens, you function as one."
That doesn't mean consolidation will be without challenges and controversy, he noted.
"You face a unique situation here," he said. "You are essentially an island, surrounded by Detroit on one side, and the lake on the other. You can sugarcoat it any way you like, but it is a challenge.
"You also have two great departments, two beautiful, well-maintained communities. You have dedicated officers. But you know where the city limits are."
Cost reduction and staffing levels were of key interest to the councils, and based on a statistical analysis of calls for service received by both cities, Wierczorek and his team recommended a reduction in public safety officers and detectives, which could be offset by a "power shift" approach to staffing.
The ICMA report recommends a squad of six officers assigned on the basis of call demand based on days of the week and the season. This squad would also fill-in for officers taking vacation or sick time. It further recommended using part-time officers to man this "floating squad," reducing personnel costs.
With the use of this "power shift," Wierczorek's team recommends the new combined department staff shifts with one lieutenant, one sergeant, one in-house officer and four patrol officers, representing a 20 percent reduction in staff that is currently on the road between the two departments. This reduction would save more than $1 million per year.
Another recommendation Wierczorek's team would like to see implemented, whether the departments fully consolidate or not, is to combine detective bureaus.
The team believes four detectives are more than is necessary; two could adequately serve both cities.
While the study focused on the policing side of public safety, Wierczorek's report also addressed fire and emergency medical personnel staffing.
One recommendation involved keeping just one fire vehicle in the City, a new, rapid-response, lightweight compressed air foam vehicle. In addition, the report recommended standardizing all equipment across departments and conducting joint training exercises.
But the first step in any consolidation process will entail approval of a merger by both city councils and then the councils' approval to amend the city charters to allow for the formation of an authority to run a new public safety department. Major issues that would need to be addressed include existing union contracts, health care and pensions as well as overall management of the new department. Wierczorek's team recommends a "rebranding" of any new department, including a new name, new uniforms and a new logo.
The directors of both public safety departments in play, Stephen Poloni from the City and David Hiller from the Park, questioned portions of the presentation, especially what appears to be reduced staffing.
"I don't agree that we would be able to provide the same service we provide now with those numbers," he said. "Our residents expect more." Poloni agreed with Hiller that the plan put forth relies on statistics and not real day-to-day operations.
However, both were emphatic in their support of consolidation and the need to explore it.
Grosse Pointe Park Mayor Palmer Heenan endorsed the plan, and agreed with Wierczorek's assessment that the current departments are "overstaffed," while acknowledging that "we need to defend our border and protect our citizens.
"I'm interested in saving taxes," Heenan said. "Grosse Pointe Park and the City are the most advanced in serving their residents. We are the most forward looking of all the Pointes. The others are kind of staid."
Heenan said the savings found in consolidating public safety could be put toward road repair and maintenance.
Several council members from both cities expressed concerns the proposal for reduced staffing would not sit well with residents.
"Any reduction in road patrols would reduce police presence," the Park's Jim Robson said.
The consolidation of dispatch services is underway between the Park and the City, and is expected to be complete by September.
All dispatch services will be conducted through the Park public safety department.
Falling back on his wedding analogy, Wieczorek told the councils they have just had their first date.
"It's up to you to decide where to go from here," he said.
Both councils agreed to review the final report and make recommendations after resident input. Few residents attended the meeting on Friday morning, and those who were in attendance complained there was little notice about the meeting.
"I think this is one of the most important issues we have faced in a long time," said City resident John Hartz.
"I don't understand why there was such little notice."
The ICMA report is available online at both the Park and the City's websites.
See page 3A for more information.