Monday, July 6, 2009

Get Me Out of Jail!

I want to get out of the jail business. That is something I have said since I became police chief. Even more important than getting out of the jail business is getting out of the jail business with a plan. No one would begin a large scale project like getting out of the jail business without a plan, yet that is what I am being asked to do.

Talk of a regional jail has been ongoing for some time. The discussion began in earnest in March of 2008 but did not include the police. The initial plan did not include any discussion of the elimination of the jail at Police Headquarters. These plans continued to progress and during the budget discussions in January of this year, it was reported the savings to close the Municipal Correctional Institute (MCI) and house prisoners at the Jackson County Detention Center would save $1 million. Again, no mention is made of closing the jail at Police Headquarters. When the manager submitted his budget to the City Council, no mention was made of closing the jail at Police Headquarters.

Over the next few months, the Public Safety and Neighborhoods committee met several times. During these meetings, the Police Department’s Headquarters detention facility is either not mentioned at all or mentioned only as a passing issue. The newspaper coverage does not make any mention of closing the facility at Police Headquarters. In all of the discussion about the jail issue, the closing of MCI was the issue, not closing the police facility.

Recently, there has been a rush to get a decision from the police to get involved with this project. Currently, we can “house” people in the police facility for close to what we would be charged by Jackson County so our savings would be minimal. We have not been provided with a plan that provides adequate protection of the police interest. We are simply being told to get on board because they claim it will save money. The costs for this project have gone from $1.4 million to $2.1 million and are now at $3.3 million. I believe that in these tough budget times, I owe it to the tax payers of this city to question this project. I would never think of going into business with someone with out a plan. Yet, that is what is being asked of the police department.

The City has already taken $1.5 million from the Capital Improvements Sales Tax fund without the approval of the Board of Police Commissioners and without the knowledge of the police department. Now we are being publicly pressured to join in this partnership and give more money without a concrete plan. What’s worse, we are being blamed for a delay to a project that we were only recently asked to join.

We do not want to dive head first into an empty pool. We just want some water in the pool before we make a big commitment with the tax payer trust and money. Is that too much to ask?

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