When a small community expands and spreads out, enhanced municipal services tend to appear at the top of the local governments wish list, particularly if the area has grown so large, services provided by surrounding township or county authorities have become inadequate. If your town has made starting its own police department a priority, prepare yourself for a complex and long road as you raise cash and put into place all of the components necessary to get your law enforcement agency off the ground.
Download or order a free copy of the “Guidelines for Starting and Operating a New Police Department” published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2006. This comprehensive guide is written to help public officials decide whether to start their own force and details steps that must be taken to put the idea into action. If downloading is problematic for you, call the DOJ at 1-800-421-6770 and ask for a copy.
Raise money. Place a tax levy referendum on the next election ballot to get community buy-in for a police department. Compile a list of compelling reasons for wanting to start a proprietary law enforcement agency: quote recent crime statistics, find research proving neighborhoods are safer with local policing and offer residents proof that their vote for the appropriations measure won’t break household budgets. Take those reasons on the road, appealing to the local media, community leaders, clubs, organizations and individuals.
Start small. Use cash generated from the tax levy to buy or lease a building and one or more automobiles. Purchase furniture, office equipment and weapons. Have cars retrofitted with state-of-the-art radio communications and computer systems. Oversee the build-out of your police station, allocating space for a reception area, break room, interrogation room, partitioned work areas for personnel and a small jail cell. If your new department plans to rely upon revenues from speeding tickets, you’ll need radar guns.
Work with an attorney and the DOJ handbook to create a policy manual outlining the departments practices and guidelines under which the new police force intends to operate. Recruit volunteers or paid police officers. Send them to the closest police academy for training. Conversely, recruit personnel directly from the academy if you want a larger employee pool. Hire a police chief with administrative skills and extensive law enforcement experience.
Appoint one member of the new police department as community liaison officer, responsible for acquainting residents with the people and functions of your new police department as soon as you open your doors. Stay in touch with other municipal agencies to create harmonious working relationships. Keep an eye on the budget. Administer funds judiciously. Poor fund allocation may mean facing a revenue bond or fund-raising referendum before the public long before you might wish to revisit the taxation issue.