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Back to Archives | Back to October 2011 Contents 

Consolidation, Amalgamation, Regionalization: When Harsh Economic Realities Impact Police Agencies

By Julian Fantino, Commissioner (Retired), Ontario Provincial Police, Ontario, Canada

here is a whole body of international research and reports about the many complex issues that focus on the escalating cost of policing as well as the pros and cons of amalgamations and restructuring of police agencies. These are issues that most assuredly will escalate as law enforcement leaders and their political masters continue to cope with the many related challenges that abound.

Also well-documented are the conflicts, the political posturing, and the emotional roller coasters that tend to impact the mere thought of the restructuring, the reconfiguring, or the contracting out of police services. These are modern-day realities that are often seen as painful survival exercises that can shake a police agency and a community to the core.

In such situations, the consistent driver for organizational change seems to be predicated on the increasingly problematic economic reality of the day and the ensuing urgency to adopt policing models that are significantly more efficient and cost effective. However, the arbitrary rationalization, amalgamation, or scaling back of police resources can be seen as regressive steps that will diminish both officer and public safety, not to mention the impact on the comfort level of a whole community.

Granted, amalgamations do not always achieve the desired results, and bigger is not necessarily better, nor is the loss of local control and oversight of police always regarded as progress. However, in today’s reality, the status quo is no longer viable.

That said, there is no denying the fact that alternate models of policing are the order of the day. Global economic circumstances are now migrating into local, regional, state, provincial, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies whose resources already are stressed by perennial shrinkages in police budgets that are usually driven by political pressure to cut costs.

Consider these recent happenings in the law enforcement community:

  • There is much debate relating to the amalgamation or the regionalization of police services in British Columbia, Canada.1
  • The Sussex, England, police chiefs say the department can cut costs and save time with radical restructuring.2
  • The voices raised against the idea of a single police force for Scotland are getting louder.3
  • The North Yorkshire, England, police restructure is intended to save money.4
  • Crime spikes are linked to police layoffs.5
  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is forced to neglect its core duties as cuts take their toll.6

  • Cop layoffs are eyed as costs soar.7

It is worthy of note that there are numerous examples of successful regional amalgamations of police agencies across Canada and elsewhere. Some of these have been driven by the economic pressures while others have evolved from the inability of smaller stand-alone agencies to maintain adequate levels of resources, equipment, training, and the expertise necessary to meet the most basic proficiencies and operational capabilities required of a modern-day, stand-alone law enforcement agency.

One more recent factor that has become a critical part of the debate is the sophistication, the nature, and the impact of multijurisdictional crime. The threat of terrorism, the expansion and mobility of criminal street gangs, cybercrime, disparate or incompatible records management and communication systems, the lack of information sharing capability, and diminished training opportunities have become added aggravating factors and liabilities that further challenge smaller stand-alone police agencies.

A number of high-profile serial killers in Canada—such as Clifford Olson, Robert Pickton, and Paul Bernardo—also serve to illustrate the challenges faced by police agencies when dealing with multijurisdictional serial crimes. In today’s reality, police agencies must have the depth of expertise and technical resources necessary to analyze criminal trends and patterns in order to make the links associated with borderless criminal activity. In essence, the ability to connect the dots is an absolutely critical aspect of modern-day law enforcement capability.

Such cases also serve to illustrate the need for policy, guidelines, and protocols necessary to facilitate the formation of multijurisdictional specialized investigative task forces; the timely sharing of information; the need for a robust intelligence function; analytical capacity; mutual aid agreements; joint training opportunities; and the integration and compatibility of records management and communications systems, equipment, and technology. The intent is to create an effective united front in the detection and apprehension of mobile criminals, as well as to effectively respond to elevated operational challenges.

To simply blame the economic crisis without a serious revisit and rethink of the traditional methods of delivering police services diminishes greatly the credibility of police leaders. This is especially true when the cost of policing has grown exponentially over the years and the various levels of government face serious difficulties in the provision of other similarly important public services.

In essence, as daunting as the current financial crisis may be, the challenge for police leaders and policy makers is all about making strategic choices—smart and proactive choices that will need to reshape and redefine “mission-critical” priorities. When faced with situations beyond their immediate control, police executives should ensure they become the agents of change in order to avoid becoming chance’s victim.

Having said the foregoing, it may be worthwhile remembering that police agencies share some of the blame for having willingly allowed themselves to become the victims of their own successes. For years, police leaders gladly assumed added roles and responsibilities that are a departure from mission-critical police functions, all the time welcoming the opportunity to increase their numbers and related budgets.

Those days are now gone. However, the current economic reality is driving policy makers to revisit and rethink the affordability of police services and how such services can be delivered more efficiently and economically—or in the extreme, not at all.

With shrinking budgets, police agencies are finding themselves in a forced retreat, having to do more with less and, of course, having no easy way to divest themselves of the many resource-intensive noncore police functions.

The United Kingdom has been proactive in efforts to study and consider alternative models of policing: “Our research shows that police authorities in particular need to significantly improve their capacity and capability for strategic planning and value for money.”8

Over the years, soaring policing costs also have become the source of much public debate and political posturing in part because of the difficulties associated with quantifying the correct formula by which police resources should be allocated to achieve the desired level of service. The common criteria used evolve around the population base, the number and type of reported crimes, arrests, the clearance rate, the demands for service, the response times, the per capita costs, and the population-per-officer ratio comparisons with other similar jurisdictions.

Although the methodology may not be an absolutely scientific resourcing model, it does provide some benchmarks that address the modern-day workload issues faced by police agencies. The trajectory is obvious to the extent that going forward, municipalities in particular will continue to face some tough choices because taxpayers will not be able to afford the increases needed to maintain adequate levels of police services.

Some communities have already stepped forward to declare that escalating police costs are unsustainable. A recent Royal Canadian Mounted Police study indicates that it costs $127 million to investigate and prosecute a murder case.9

Then thrown in are the often unpredictable costs associated with policing civil unrest, major events, VIP visits, labor disputes, natural or man-made disasters, litigation, unfavorable rulings from the courts, and more. These are factors that represent an added financial burden impacting an already stressed situation and about which municipalities especially are seeking some kind of meaningful relief.

A significant part of escalating costs is attributed to the labor-intensive nature of police work and the increased use of technology and sophisticated communications systems, specialized equipment, and training. The example of expanding technology associated with a modern-day patrol vehicle comes to mind. In-car computers and printers, global positioning system devices, voice command communications systems, video and audio capability, speed and alcohol detection devices, and so on, have transformed the modern-day patrol vehicle into a sophisticated, technologically advanced virtual police office.

Taking into account the foregoing and contextualizing the issues into an informed prediction about the future, one can conclude that the current inventory of the nearly 18,000 state, local, and tribal stand-alone police agencies in the United States will no longer be sustainable.

As well, it would be folly to ignore the exponential growth of the private security industry. Private security policing covers three main areas: manned security services, detention and professional security services, and security products—all of which are far less expensive than traditional police services. And this industry will continue to grow exponentially.

The costs of police services are met from different sources in different countries. Costs of public policing have increased significantly in recent years in industrial countries . . . , reflecting both increased expenditure on technology and demands for more police officers. Globally, however, the costs of police services vary enormously. A key determinant of overall public policing expenditure appears to be the strength of a country’s economy, which drives tax revenues on which public service expenditures are based.10

The evidence is overwhelming about the looming financial crisis in policing. The argument also can be made that the crisis is already here. This serves to reinforce the need for police reform. A critical aspect of any such reform must include the police perspective, thus making the painful exercise cooperative rather than adversarial between political leaders, the community, and union representatives. This exercise must be directed by the wisdom, the experience, and the input of motivated and visionary police leaders.

It has been stated that “Police are in a bind. They are costly without being clearly effective. The usefulness of their core strategies—mobile patrolling, visible presence, and deterrent criminal investigations—is doubtful. Understandably, therefore, during the 1980s, as crime and the costs of policing both rose inexorably, the police came under acute political pressure to demonstrate that they were giving value for money.”11

Although policing will never become an extinct profession, what will continue to change is the affordability, the application, the delivery, and the accountability of police services—factors that today are putting police agencies under the political, media, and public microscope.

Although some police leaders find it personally and professionally objectionable to believe that the time has come to seriously consider worthwhile options and opportunities to closely examine the advantages of regionalization or consolidation of law enforcement agencies, the predictable realities of the day will surely drive the unprecedented change agenda.

In 2002, Edward J. Tully, editor of the National Executive Institute Associates Leadership Bulletin, authored an insightful article, “Regionalization or Consolidation of Law Enforcement Services in the United States,” whose content has international appeal and application.

Mr. Tully concluded, “All of the professional law enforcement organizations in the United States, as well as the public and politicians at the local and state level, should give consideration to placing the consolidation of small, rural law enforcement agencies into regional police forces on the agenda for serious debate. It is a matter that could be of great public interest, and eventually, in the best interest of our emerging profession.”12

As difficult as the thought might be for some, the formula for coping and surviving the progressive economic crisis may be the willingness of police executives and policy makers to consider restructuring options for their police agencies. Reasonable options should be considered as a way to acquire meaningful financial and operational efficiencies that can be realized only with the successful consolidation or regionalization of stand-alone police agencies.

Obviously, certain consideration and challenges would have to be taken into account, such as

  • the degree of political support,
  • the willingness of police leaders to embrace change,
  • the degree of community support, and

  • the degree of union support.

The foregoing is by no means an exhaustive overview of the many varied and complex issues faced by communities in general and by police leaders in particular. As well, admittedly there are no canned, off-the-shelf programs available that will provide ready-made, one-size-fits-all solutions to the fiscal crisis facing police agencies internationally. This article is offered to simply stimulate thinking and discourse in order to encourage police leaders especially to do all that they can reasonably and proactively do as motivated agents of change.

Although there are no magic solutions when it comes to ensuring optimum officer and public safety, one thing is for certain: the resolve of police leaders to rise with honor and distinction to simply do the right thing in order to achieve a greater good outcome for all concerned. In the harsh economic realities that prevail, the pursuit of the greater good should also include an objective and dispassionate consideration for all reasonable options—options that should include the consolidation, the amalgamation, and the regionalization of police agencies. ■


1“Policy Priority Area—Crime and Public Safety: Police Amalgamation (2006),” Policy and Positions Manual, BC Chamber of Commerce, (accessed August 12, 2011).
2Ben Parsons, “Sussex Police Reveal Restructure Plans,” The Argus, March 3, 2011, (accessed August 15, 2011).
3“Restructuring Is Vital for Police,” Herald Scotland, April 18, 2011, (accessed August 12, 2011).
4“North Yorkshire Police Restructure to Save Cash,” BBC, March 20, 2011, (accessed August 12, 2011).
5Kevin Johnson, “Police Report Crime Spikes Related to Economy,” USA Today, January 27, 2009, (accessed August 12, 2011).
6Andrew Ardizzi, “RCMP Forced to Neglect Core Duties, Underfunded,” Digital Journal, June 10, 2011, (accessed August 12, 2011).
7Robyn Doolittle, “Cop Layoffs Are Eyed as Costs Soar,” Toronto Star, May 31, 2011, (accessed August 15, 2011).
8Valuing the Police: Policing in an Age of Austerity (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, July 2010), 4, (accessed August 12, 2011).
9“Police Costs Unsustainable,” Richmond News, December 18, 2009, (accessed August 15, 2011).
10“Costs of Police Services,” What-When-How: In-depth Information,, (accessed August 16, 2011).
11David H. Bayley, Police for the Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 79.
12Edward J. Tulley, “Regionalization or Consolidation of Law Enforcement Services in the United States,” National Executive Institute Associates Leadership Bulletin (January 2002), (accessed August 12, 2011).

Please cite as:

Julian Fantino, "Consolidation, Amalgamation, Regionalization: When Harsh Economic Realities Impact Police Agencies," The Police Chief 78 October 2011): 38–42.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 10, October 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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