The Harrisburg Town Council approved a law enforcement study at its Monday night meeting.
The study was a first step in evaluating the future possibility of a police department run by the town.
The town council first heard the study in October, 2020 from David Graham with U.S. ISS Agency, LLC, and it was on the agenda at a previous council meeting this year to be considered for approval. The council chose to push off the vote until it could hold a workshop to discuss the study in more detail. The council held that workshop Sept. 25.
The study estimated the structure of operations, costs and resources needed if the town ever provided full law enforcement services. The estimations were based off of the town’s current law enforcement needs and tax data.
Town Manager Lee Conner described the study at the meeting as a conceptual document that could be used as a road map later.
Reviewing the study
The study laid out three possible paths for law enforcement in the town:
Stay with what the town has
Enhance its current level of service
Establish a new police department
Through a contract with the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office, the town currently has 17 deputies with two more to be added, and the current annual cost is $1.7 million to cover everything in the contract and vehicles.
If the town enhanced the level of service, the study suggested adding 11 additional employees, being the total to about 30. This would include a captain, four patrol officers, 12 traffic officers, three criminal investigative officers and one administrator.
Enhancing the services would add an additional $1,050,000 to the town’s annual law enforcement costs.
If the town chose to move forward with its own police department the costs would be significant, especially in the beginning. There would also be a $3 million start up cost and about $3.4 million in implementation costs. The cost of building a new police department was estimated at about $7 to $10 million alone.
Several services would still be contracted out like SWAT and a bomb squad.
The department was projected to have about 37 officers. The annual expenses would range from $3.8 to $4 million.
Town staff also mentioned that the enhanced services plan adds nearly as many employees as the police department but at significantly less cost.
But the town could apply for grants to help cover many of these costs. The study listed about 24 grants the town could apply for if it moved forward.
Now that the council has accepted the study it has a few options to move forward. It can either do nothing and hold off on moving forward until a later date, or it can progress through the steps of evaluating a police department.
Council member Ian Patrick suggested that the town approve the study but hold off on moving forward with anything else. He stated that the study showed that the sheriff’s office provides exceptional services in response times and coverage especially for the cost of the contract.
Council member Ron Smith agreed and said the numbers laid out in the study convinced him that the town was getting good service for the cost. He also said the idea of a police department had been thrown around for a while, and he was glad real data was out about the topic.
“We needed to know the numbers so that, in reality, it was understood other than just a political football because throwing things around like that does have a cost,” he said.
If the town did move forward, the town would need to put out a referendum. The earliest a referendum could be placed is November 2023. Town staff also suggested putting out community surveys to better understand what the community wants from its law enforcement.
For now, the town has approved the study but there aren’t any current plans for moving forward.