Last week the News&Guide ran a story about possible consolidation of town and county law enforcement. The candidates are split, the paper reported: “Some are hesitant to give up the town’s police force or reduce numbers, but not Stanford.”
I have talked about this issue since launching my candidacy because it’s ludicrous for a community of this size to spend nearly $10 million per year on the police and sheriff’s departments, especially when we have federal Park Service and Forest Service rangers, Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers and Game and Fish wardens also enforcing our laws.
The town is confronting difficult budget decisions in the coming years, with sales tax revenues flat or declining and demand for services rising. I’ve looked over every item of the town budget, and it’s pretty tight. Town employees haven’t had a raise in four years, and what limited social spending the town provides was slashed by 20 percent this year.
Law enforcement, however, stands out.
“Public safety constitutes 35 percent — about $5 million — of the town’s general fund for fiscal year 2013, ” the News&Guide reported. “The police force makes up $3.1 million of the public safety budget, by far the most of any town department.”
Any consolidation would have to be done thoughtfully, I emphasized, and with the cooperation of the Teton County commissioners, who oversee the sheriff’s budget.
The justification for the town and county spending so much on law enforcement — far and away the highest per capita in Wyoming, even more than Casper or Cheyenne — always has been the influx of summer tourists. An additional 30, 000 people could be in Teton County on any given summer day.
But that’s just for three or four months of the year. And sheriff’s deputies rarely respond to the most remote parts of the county, such as Yellowstone National Park. The News&Guide published a two-part series this summer about the frequency of public intoxication arrests, which numbered more than 600 last year. This strikes me as excessive.
Staffing at that level year round is unsustainable, given our budgetary constraints. Perhaps cross-training officers as EMTs or fire responders would be more efficient. Our community has to work together — town and county — to find a better way.