Mixed thoughts toward combining police and fire departments
Contrary to popular belief, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, or IAFC, has publicly acknowledged why it believes combining police and fire department resources is risky. In a recent article on Fire Chiefs’ website, it argues that combining police and fire is actually an “unacceptable level of public service,” with no evidence that indicates the Public Safety Officer, or PSO, concept will save departments money.
But ongoing research by MSU’s School of Criminal Justice suggests the opposite. The study pointed out advantages in consolidation, including having well-trained officers who can arrive on the scene and immediately assess the resources required and prevent needless dispatch of large equipment that can place the community at risk when quickly driving from location to location.
“Public safety consolidation can reduce the total need for line staff. It also can reduce duplication in administration, communication services and physical infrastructure,” the report said.
The IAFC argues that despite a shared goal of public safety, the activities of law enforcement officers and firefighters require different training, education and exercise. They also believe fire services typically serve as a position of trust within communities that surpasses fear of authority, whereas law enforcement’s “mission to prevent crime from different threats creates a varied public opinion and reaction,” according to a position statement IAFC released.
“There’s a real difference between the job description and the mission of these two disciplines,” IAFC Chief Hank Clemmensen said. “Although we have the same public safety first responder titles, our job descriptions are much different. When you try to combine them and do the same thing, there’s a conflict.”
The East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, has made no effort toward creating PSO positions, Lt. Scott Wriggelsworth said. He said he knows of police departments around the state that have similar programs, but they have not implemented PSOs.
Nearby, Meridian Twp. Police Department once had PSOs but dissolved the positions due to concerns over the effectiveness they provided, Meridian Twp. Police Department Lt. Greg Frenger said.
“Without experience, it all depends on how it is designed and how the planning ends up,” Frenger said. “The medical end of the training is intensive and requires a lot of updates and that makes it difficult. I’m not sure that in the end, every agency finds that they will save money.”