On December 1, Youngtown, Ariz., joined the ranks of the many U.S. cities and towns that have fired their local police forces. In recent years, it has become somewhat of a trend across the country for municipalities to disband police departments, most often due to financial restrictions. 24/7 Wall St. has identified six cities and towns that have completely dissolved their local law enforcement groups.
Using information from the National Fraternal Order of Police and conversations with a number of police departments, 24/7 found nearly 50 cities and towns that either considered dismantling or have already dismantled their police forces in the past four years. 24/7 also received help from Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office — a department that has taken over law enforcement responsibilities for 16 police forces in the country. The initial list was cut down to include only the largest municipalities and the most recent cases of police force termination.
A number of reasons contribute to a local government dismissing its police department. Some cities, such as Pewaukee, Wis., face controversies revolving around questionable police actions. Others, such as Pontiac, Mich., have exceptionally high crime rates, giving city officials additional incentive to take a different approach to law enforcement. However, the primary reason for laying off an entire police force is cost cutting. Every municipality on 24/7’s list has disbanded its local police force in order to, at least in part, save money. Once the local police have been relieved of duty, police work has been taken over by the county sheriff’s offices in every case. The economic recession has made matters much worse for police forces. According to a Justice Department report from October of this year, law enforcement is facing its first overall job decline in 25 years.
This is 24/7 Wall St.’s list of cities that have fired their police forces.
1. Youngtown Ariz.
> Date: 12/1/2011
> Population: 6,000
> Size of former police department: 7
Youngtown voted to dissolve its police force most recently. On December 1, town leaders voted unanimously to replace its police with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. The transition has already taken place, with the town’s seven police officers being laid off, receiving a month’s pay as severance. According to Arizona Republic News, Youngtown is “edg[ing] towards bankruptcy.” Disbanding its police force could save up to $486,000 in the first year. According to one council member, the decision is also about police safety, as a seven-member force does not provide adequate police protection.
2. Millbrae, Calif.
> Date: 11/17/11
> Population: 21,532
> Size of former police department: 21
In November of this year, the Millbrae city council decided with a 3-2 split decision to dismantle the city’s police force. Law enforcement will now be handled by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, the same department that has taken over duties in San Carlos. And much like in San Carlos, Millbrae’s decision was made for cost-cutting reasons, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Millbrae has shrunk its police force by 26% since 2001 and, according to one council member, the city has considered outsourcing since 2003.
3. Pontiac, Mich.
> Date: 10/31/10
> Population: 60,177
> Size of former police department: 74
Pontiac voted on October 31, 2010, to outsource it policing duties to the Oakland County Sheriff. The change took effect in January 2011. Since the decision was spurred by the city’s $12 million budget deficit, according to Michigan Radio, Oakland County also made sure to protected itself. Executive L. Brooks Patterson added a last minute amendment to the contract, allowing for Oakland to void the entire contract if Pontiac declares bankruptcy. At the time, dissolving the police force was expected to save Pontiac about $2 million a year. All the city’s police officers were hired by the county.
4. San Carlos, Calif.
> Date: 6/30/10
> Population: 28,155
> Size of former police department: 32
San Carlos is another city that decided to dissolve its police force to cut costs — the only one in the Bay Area city with its own police force to outsource its law enforcement. Protecting the city has since been the responsibility of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. The city’s 2011 deficit was nearly $3.5 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The county police force hired San Carlos’s 32 officers.
5. Maywood, Calif.
> Date: 6/30/10
> Population: 27,431
> Size of former police department: 41
The Maywood Police Department was disbanded in June 2010, after serving the community for 90 years. In addition, the city council voted unanimously to lay off all city employees. County police officers replaced the local cops, while workers from neighboring cities filled other positions. According to a CNN article, “The city can’t have any staff because it can’t get liability or worker’s compensation insurance for them.” Instead of going bankrupt, the city decided to outsource all workers.
6. Pewaukee, Wisc.
> Date: 12/31/09
> Population: 12,963
> Size of former police department: 27
In 2009, the small city of Pewaukee decided to replace its 40-year-old city police department with the services of the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department. The move was expected to save $1 million, meant to help the city reduce a large budget gap. The city also had troubles with its police force in the past, including the controversial resignation of a police chief in 2008, after he was accused of falsely telling police employees that Pewaukee was preparing to fire them. As it turns out, 26 officers lost their jobs on December 31, 2009. However, 16 of them were subsequently hired by Waukesha County.
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