The nation's economic woes are starting to manifest themselves here in Texas with local governments cutting back on services and in some cases, laying off law enforcement officers. I have been in law here in Texas for over twenty years and this is the first time I have seen Texas agencies actually lay off cops.
There is a story over at the Wall Street Journal about the small town of Alto, Texas whose city council just made the tough decision to furlough their entire five man department. Residents in Alto are fearful that crime in Alto is about to jump.
"Everybody's talking about 'bolt your doors, buy a gun,' " said Monty Collins, Alto's mayor, who was against the measure.
City Council members sent the police home when they decided they couldn't afford them. On June 15, the police chief and his four officers secured the evidence room, changed the passwords on their computers and locked the department's doors for six months—longer if local finances don't improve by then.
Of course, the model of every community having their own independent police force is not one that's universally used worldwide. Many countries have large national or regional police forces that cover communities of all sizes, from small to large.
Critics of national or regional police forces will argue that a community controlling their own police force makes for better community policing. However, it is possible to have community policing with a large police force. There are only a few regional police forces in the UK and they have always been at the forefront of community policing.
It may be more cost effective for law enforcement to be practiced by larger, more professional agencies than by small departments of 10 or fewer officers. When I lived in southern California, there were quite a number of communities that found it more cost effective to outsource their police services by contracting with the county sheriff to provide law enforcement in their community.
One benefit of larger, more professional police forces would be the reduction in the number of gypsy cops who always seem to be employed by small town police departments.
Maybe the belt tightening forced by the economy will force some systemic changes in the way we deliver law enforcement services in our communities.