ELKO, NV – A proposal from the Elko County Sheriff’s Office to absorb the Elko Police Department into a consolidated metro law enforcement service drew criticism from the police union at the Elko City Council meeting Tuesday.
Elko Police Officers Association president Shane Daz called some of the proposal’s foundational assumptions into question in his criticism, including the calculation that the merger would save the city $3 to $6 million in costs, personnel and building expenses.
It may save in some areas, Daz said, but there are other expenses that could be less predictable, especially in the longer term.
He also cited computer system changes that would be needed, the more concentrated call load in the city and the possible loss of detective positions in a backlogged city office as reasons the merger may be more complicated than the proposal indicates.
Undersheriff Clair Morris acknowledged a history of tension between the two agencies.
“This is just a proposal,” Morris said. “We’re not trying to take over.”
Lt. Kevin McKinney, who presented the proposal to council Tuesday evening, noted that 12-hour shifts at the sheriff’s department have increased patrol units on duty at any given time and freed up many opportunities for training in the agency.
McKinney urged the council not to consider the merger just for cost savings, but in order to increase the efficiency of the operation.
“The police department is at a crossroads right now,” McKinney said. “This is an opportunity to consider options.”
Sheriff Jim Pitts approached councilman Robert Schmidtlein with the idea in April when the council was faced with Elko Police Chief Don Zumwalt’s retirement.
Zumwalt stood in the back of the chambers during the meeting, along with at least a dozen Elko police officers, detectives and administrative personnel.
The call load in the city is higher than in the sheriff’s service area, based on 2012 statistics collected by the Free Press earlier this year. Most of the consolidations in police agencies in the U.S. have been into the higher-volume agency, according to the 2012 Community Oriented Policing Services report from the Department of Justice.
Daz noted concerns that a merger with such a long timeline of adoption would be very difficult to undo once it happened.
“If you’re not happy with the service, it’s a big deal to shift back,” Daz said, making eye contact with city council members. “You really have to weigh this carefully.”
The proposal was only a discussion item at the meeting Tuesday. There was no comment on when it would be considered by the council.