Small Police Depts in the U.S.

Recently while in the U.S. I half saw a T.V. news item (On CNN I think but couldn’t swear to it)about budget cuts causing a small town to abolish its police dept. and in the future having to rely on state troopers.

I was only paying peripheral attention to the item and had mostly missed the gist of it before it engaged my interest.
Infuriatingly the station didn’t repeat the item though I kept scanning the channels.

I’m sure that the item said that the P.D. only had three employees (though that again I might have got wrong) and it had me wondering how they managed to function with so few people,plus what level of coverage did they give(24/7,days only or something else?).

How far were the limits of their jurisdiction and were there overlaps with the state authorities,were they entitled to cover all degrees of crime or only lesser crimes?
What training and qualifications would be legally necessary before the L.E.Os hit the street(No I’m not thinking of volunteering)

Can anyone help me out on this or tell me a site where I can look it up,plus would also be grateful if anyone can tell which town the item was about.

I have no hidden motives for my questions,its pure curiousity on my part.

Back a decade or so ago, the Town of Greenport on Long Island abolished its police force, too. The Town police took up their job, and they turned the police station into public rest rooms [insert joke].

In general, there are overlapping jurisdictions: villages/cities, towns, counties, and the state. (I’m using the terms used in New York; other states use different terms). Each unit can have its own police force.

In general, the police can enforce any laws, up to and including the state and Federal level. If there’s a murder, they can arrest and investigate no matter what level it is. Similarly, the State Police can enforce town ordinances (e.g., speeding rules). It really depends on who catches the criminal.

You should keep in mind that a lot of small towns never form police departments in the first place. They just contract with the county sheriff to conduct law enforcement in their jurisdiction. West Hollywood is just such an example, and many a celebrity hanging out there gets busted by the sheriff rather than the police.

Also seen plenty of places with agreements between several close and/or small cities/towns to have one police department and one fire department between them. At that point I honestly don’t know why they don’t simply merge the towns into one entity.

For that matter, school districts tend to go through the same thing, merging to cover more than just a single town.

I remember spending a weekend in a small town in southern Minnesota back in the early 80’s. The town police went off duty at 6pm and then had an answering machine. If you had an urgent issue in the evening, someone would pick up the phone, then the guy would throw on his uniform and come to check it out. Always seemed odd to me. I figured if they had limited operational hours, you would WANT the coverage to include weekend evenings.

For detective & forensic services, these small towns often depend on State-level organizations.

Around here in Southern New Hampshire the towns all have their own police dept but they seem to work closely together. About five towns share a communications center. Even so, I suspect there’s a lot of wasteful duplication. When a murder happened last year, it seemed like the state police immediately took over the investigation.

My town doesn’t have an ambulance or high school but we have a deal with a neighboring town for those. Quite a bit of the “towns” are rural and they all border each other. There’s no county land in between, at least not around here. There is a county sheriff dept but I think they mostly run the jails and transport prisoners.

I don’t know which town the news piece mentioned. It is not uncommon at all in Pennsylvania for small boroughs to disband their police departments and let the state police do it.

Sheriff’s in PA only do work for the courts, prisoner transport, sheriff’s sales, serve warrants and issue gun permits.

It just gets expensive for a small town with a small budget to employ a separate police chief and dispatcher and buy cars and fuel and equipment.

If you look at the really small police departments in PA, they will probably have 3-4full time officers and a few part time officers. The part time officers do a couple of shifts each week and get experience in order to take a full time job down the road. They get trained in firearms and procedure, but aren’t paid a heck of a lot. That helps for coverage.

The local cops cover everything in their boroughs. For major investigations, those responsibilties are handled by the county. The county DA’s office here has a homicide unit, a sex crimes unit. Each has detectives. So if a murder occurs in the borough of Slugville, the local cops respond to the scene, but have to call the county coroner and the DA’s office.

We have had a few cases where the small town cops were so corrupt the town shut them down and hired the county to patrol the streets.

Well, when everyone know everyone, and the town police chief is the mayor’s brother, and his two deputies are his cousin and his best friend from high school, things can get a little too close knit.

Then again, it’s not like we have entire large city police departments that are so corrupt that they need to be shut down, is it? (sarcasm)

In Canada, the default police force for federal, provincial, and local affairs is federal: the famous Mounties.

Ontario and Quebec have their own provincial police forces which handle provincial and local affairs. In Ontario, the provincial police also patrol the highways.

Small towns will have a detachment of the provincial police. Larger towns and cities have their own police forces, which handle local affairs, leaving provincial and federal affairs to their respective forces.

Some large organizations like railways and transit commissions have their own police. I think some universities might as well.

What we don’t seem to have, at least in Ontario, is the equivalent of county police forces.

I just want to say thanks for the replies so far,please keep them coming.

As a Brit I find the whole idea that if say, you have a small town or what maybe we’d call a village in England you can come to a community cosensus and set up your own police department and not only is it not vigilanteism but its enforcement is legal in a court of law.

On the whole it sounds like a good idea to me though with the caveat of nepotism mentioned in the previous posts.
There must be laws saying who can and who cannot set up their own police force and I’m curious as to how much training the officers must have before they’re judged competent to go out and deal with the public.

I believe that a good part of the training of British L.E.O.s is about the law itself ie.what is a crime and what is not.
As in “Excuse me sir but you can’t sell goods from a tray on the pavement”(U.S. sidewalk)
“Why not?”
“Er Er Er”
And obviously our version of Miranda.

There must be some sort of standard for a small town L.E.O.s evidence to be treated as an expert witness(not sure if thats the right term)as opposed to giving evidence as an ordinary civilian.

I’ve gleaned from the thread that they get on the job training from experienced officers,do the E.O.s have to take some sort of proffessional qualification or attend a recognised academy or maybe have been previously employed by a big city police force?

And while we’re on the subject I’d be grateful if anyone can tell me the differences proffessionally between local,county and state police.

I find this an incredibly fascinating subject.

This thread made me think of the corrupt Spart PD (“In The Heat of the Night”).
Fat, foulmouthed police chief and corrupt, dopey cops.

Sorry, that was the “Sparta” PD!:smiley:

Typically any government with “police powers” (regulatory authority over its citizenry) has the authority to start up a police agency. (I’m making that distinction because there are such things as special-purpose government bodies such as fire districts, school districts, which ordinarily do not have that authority.)

Typically small towns that can afford a patrolman or two but not a full-time department will be policed by the state oolice and/or county sheriff’s patrol as a part of their coverage of the much larger area in which the town is located, and supplement that (inadequate) police coverage at the times of greatest need (nights and/or weekends) by adding on local patrols, generally moonlighting police from other jurisdictions such as the sheriff’s patrol or the nearest large city PD) to cover the times they “really” need local coverage.

I knew of one resort community, whose population quintupled during the summer months, which had full-time round-the-clock coverage during the summer months, working under a local chief whose primary employment was as a sheriff’s deputy and who patrolled the town on weekend nights and was on call other nights and weekends during the “off season”, the sheriff’s department providing patrols passing through the area when he wasn’t on duty during the “off season”.

Lust4Life writes:

> There must be laws saying who can and who cannot set up their own police
> force and I’m curious as to how much training the officers must have before
> they’re judged competent to go out and deal with the public.

Yes, there are state laws about who can form their own police department. Each state decides how the various police departments in its state work. Each state has a state police department. These don’t handle most of the first-line police work though. In general, each county has its own police department. (Well, it’s each parish in Louisiana where the term “parish” is used instead of “county.”) Any large city will have its own police department. Indeed, basically any medium-sized city will have its own police department. The structure of all these police departments will be regulated by state law. The state will determine what the minimum hiring requirements are and what the minimum training requirements are. There will be state police training academies for both state and local police forces. Hiring for the local forces will be at a local level.

A random community can’t create and enforce its own laws. There are circumstances that allow something at just a slightly lower level - gated communities. A community can be established (by the property developer who buys the land and builds all the houses) where the property developer has bought a large tract of previously undeveloped land. He builds the streets himself so that he owns everything including the streets. He can then fence off the community and put security guards at all the entrances. Only the people that the security guards allow in (including the dwellers in the houses of course) can get into the community. This is thus the same as an apartment house with a doorman. A gated community can’t pass its own laws, but it can create restrictions on what the owners of the houses can do (like restricting what color of paint they use on the houses). They can do this because the property developer made them sign an agreement before they bought the house from him. The security guards are just that - not police. They can’t enforce any laws. They have to allow state and local police, fire, and regulatory agents to enter the community. There are in general state laws with minimum requirements for hiring and training of security guards.

Nearly all investigations of state and local laws start with county and city police. State police are initially involved only in certain limited crimes and certain limited locations. They will be called on by the county and local police if they need help in certain ways. Federal laws are quite different. They are usually investigated solely by federal police forces like the F.B.I. The F.B.I. also is sometimes called in by local or state police.

The vast majority of criminal laws in the U.S. are state laws. Local laws tend to be things like the hours of operation of businesses or the speed limits within the cities. The initial investigation of both state and local laws are handled mostly by local police though.

I grew up in a county of under 9000 people. We had the sheriff’s department, which ran the county jail and did some patrols, and the state police, which did investigations and made most arrests. Every county in Michigan has one State Police post, so our police needs were taken care of mostly through the state. The sheriff’s department also doubled as the fire department and tripled as the EMTs.

The county jail was paid for by the county and was about a third of our budget. But the patrols the sheriff deputies did were paid for by grants from the state.

The variations here are endless: there are 50 states, all of which have different ways to distribute power to smaller entities–counties (or parishes), towns, etc. Heck, our school district (large urban district) has a small police force, and it’s not uncommon for universities to have police forces. They mostly write parking tickets and citations for things like drunk and disorderly, but they are real cops.

The thing to remember is that this stuff overlaps, and one group having a given authority doesn’t mean that another group has to give it up–you might have 5 different law enforcement officials that could, say, write a citation in the same spot.

ETA: If this seems confusing to a Brit, I direct to you William Stubbs’ Constitutional History of England. You all started this crap!

And sometimes there are towns that are so corruptthat the state has to shut it down. This place could be a nasty little suprise.

I read about New Rome in one of the car mags, that place was a joke.

We’re really sorrry and we won’t do it again!