Widgets Magazine

Palo Alto considers fire, police merger

The city of Palo Alto is considering consolidating its fire and police departments into a single “department of public safety” to eliminate extraneous administrative costs. Stanford University Department of Public Safety spokesman Bill Larson said that while the University has relationships with the two departments, the proposed merger’s impact on the Stanford community remains unclear.

Stanford’s fire service, including dispatching, is contracted out to the city of Palo Alto. Stanford’s police service, on the other hand, is separate from the city’s and falls under the jurisdiction of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office, Larson said.

City manager James Keene first broached the potential merger at a City Council meeting earlier this month, citing the city’s increasing health-care costs as one of the main motivations behind the change. Police chief Dennis Burns, who has acted as interim fire chief since July 1, 2010, supported the argument for a single leader of a united Public Safety Department. Several consulting firms have also released reports with similar recommendations, advocating for a permanent consolidation of the two positions.

By merging the two departments and drastically reducing administrative costs and increasing overall efficiency, Keene hopes to avoid sticky financial situations in the future. Palo Alto is currently trying to avoid service and staffing cuts and minimize disruption to public safety operations. He expressed the need for a long-term vision of the city’s public safety services at the committee meeting.

“I just have to think that for the long term at least, efficiencies on support, the administration backbone and all of those sorts of things are worthwhile,” he said then.

Elena Stephenson