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There’s a lot of talk about consolidation and shared services as a way to address New Jersey’s budget crisis. Some baby steps have been taken in areas such as public safety, county-wide purchasing, and library services.
While consolidation and sharing of services is a noble goal in the abstract, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Case in point: the Woodlynne Police Department.
Woodlynne is a tiny one-quarter square mile borough tucked between Camden and Collingswood. Four years ago, in an effort to save money, the borough disbanded its police force, sold off its squad cars and other assets, and outsourced police protection to Collingswood. Like almost all public service agencies, the Collingswood Police Department had severe fiscal challenges, and in 2009 started to cut back on police patrols in the Woodlynne borough. This soured the relationship between the two municipalities, and eventually they agreed on an amicable divorce – Woodlynne would resurrect its independent police department.
The borough of 3,000 residents hired about a dozen officers who were laid off from their police jobs in surrounding municipalities, and hired a former Camden police chief as their Director of Public Safety at a $60,000 annual salary. The new Woodlynne Police Department started operation this past Sunday. Much of the equipment such as bulletproof vests, guns, and forensic devices was recycled or donated from other departments or the state, although the borough did invest in two brand new squad cars.
I’m not qualified to comment on whether this insourcing initiative is good or bad for the citizens of Woodlynne. It’s possible that the lure of home rule, clash of personalities, or insufficient service from Collingswood all contributed to this reversal. What’s important here, though, for the rest of the state is to capitalize on Woodlynne’s and Collingswood’s experiences and apply those lessons learned to future cost-cutting efforts. The New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety should interview the principal parties and document what worked, and what didn’t. The Department should establish a repository of lessons learned from this and similar efforts – those that succeed as well as those that fail. And those lessons need to be part of the planning process for future consolidation efforts and sharing of services. By systematically exploiting mistakes of the past, we have an improved chance of ensuring a better future.