By Nick Worth
and Linda Kor
A plan to disband the Holbrook Police Department and contract Holbrook’s law enforcement duties out to the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) is not yet in the works, according to City Manager Ray Alley.
“I’m just exploring options for future planning,” Alley said last Thursday. “To put this in place is a policy decision that would have to be done by the city council.”
According to Alley, his plan is to contract with the NCSO to take over as the law enforcement agency in Holbrook. The 14 certified police officers currently employed by the HPD would then be eligible to be hired by the NCSO.
“Most of them would probably be hired by the county,” Alley said. “They would have to meet the county’s standards.”
Alley said his decision to look into the matter was prompted by the rash of vehicular burglaries and other crime that took place during the past week.
“We had an attempted murder, eight burglaries, and a stolen car rolled on the railroad tracks and hit by a train,” Alley said. “We only have one investigator on the Holbrook Police Department.
“It’s getting worse,” he said. “We’re getting farther and farther behind.”
Alley said the NCSO currently has six investigators.
“We transferred the dispatching to the county last year and it has worked out fine,” Alley said. He acknowledged there have been some issues and complaints, but said on the whole, having the county do HPD’s dispatching has worked.
Alley said he has been in discussions with HPD Chief Mark Jackson and with NCSO Sheriff KC Clark, but that he is the one who initiated the discussions.
“KC had nothing to do with this,” Alley said. “I approached him with the idea and he said he thinks it might work. Mark (Jackson) thinks it might work, too.
“I also told Mark to put this before his officers,” Alley said. “I’m not trying to sneak anything by anyone. But for the record, I think it’s a good idea.”
“I can see the good in it. Right now we don’t have a radio tech, an IT person or our own dispatch,” said Jackson. “We have to contract out for all of that. The sheriff’s office has all those things.
“We have one detective while they have four or five. If something happens, we could have all those detectives working on that case,” he added.
Jackson acknowledged there would be a down side to such a plan, as well.
“On the other end, I hate to see the city disband a police department that’s been part of the community for the past 75 years,” Jackson said. “The officers may have the opportunity to transfer to the sheriff’s office, but they’d still have to go through their application process, and there’s no guarantees. It could even mean less pay for some of them.
“You also need to think about the contract itself. It may be something that would work now, but what about down the road with a different sheriff?” Jackson asked. “They may not like the idea of contracting services and decide to discontinue the contract, and then the city would have to go through the process of re-establishing a new department and that could be expensive.
“I think both possibilities have their good points and it’ll be for the council to determine,” Jackson said. “Either way, I fully support whatever the council should decide.”
Sheriff KC Clark said it’s still too early in the process to say whether his department would enter into such an agreement.
“It is so early; I’m one of those guys that never says never,” Clark said. “I’m open to discussions, but I don’t think it should be about money. It should be about better service. All over the country, more and more people are sharing services.
“I don’t want to get into some kind of battle over whether the sheriff’s office or the PD is better, and I don’t think that’s Ray’s intention,” Clark said.
“I understand some city employees are upset because they think they may lose their jobs,” he said. “Nobody lost their job when we took over the dispatch. We had several open positions and only one person from the PD put in for it.”
Clark said his intention would be to save jobs, but that there would be no guarantee.
“There’s a lot of ways to do this,” Clark continued. “It could be Holbrook vehicles and Holbrook city employees and just the command staff could be sheriff’s office, or it could be sheriff’s office employees patrolling Holbrook.
“I’m open for discussions,” he repeated.
Alley said the idea is far from becoming a reality.
“I’m just brainstorming. It might not even work out financially,” Alley said. “The county might say, ‘No, we can’t do it.’”
Alley also said he had not yet talked to the city council members about the idea, but intended to do so at their meeting Monday evening.
He said the 2013-14 HPD budget is $1.7 million.
City Finance Director Randy Sullivan said more money is not the solution.
“We can’t just throw money at it,” Sullivan said. “We could put another million dollars into it and that wouldn’t fix it.”
Alley said the recent crime wave is something that could have been avoided.
“If we had put in the surveillance cameras I wanted, we wouldn’t be going through this,” he said.
As for implementing the plan, if it comes to that, Alley made his role clear.
“The council has to do it, not Ray Alley,” he said. “I have no authority to do it.
“I do have the authority to look into it. That’s what I get paid for.”
By Nick Worth