Some American Towns Are Doing Away With Their Police Departments

March 11, 2015 Updated: March 11, 2015

If the Ferguson Police Department is eventually eliminated in the aftermath of recent official confirmation of racial bias, it wouldn’t be the first time. In the past year alone, a number of police departments of varying sizes have been done away with for reasons ranging from financial necessity to overwhelming controversy.

Former Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson transferred from one such troubled department in Jennings, Mo. Wilson, a white officer who would later go on to be cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting death of black teen Michael Brown, was once part of a team in Jennings that had so many racially charged troubles between blacks and whites that it was completely disbanded and new officers were brought in.

Elsewhere in the United States, problems with police departments can get so bad that they are shut down completely.

In Waldo, Fla., the police had become so corrupt that there was literally a sign on the highway to warn drivers of a speed-trap ticketing scam. In October 2014, the City Council voted to disband the department completely and Waldo is now protected and served by the county sheriff’s office.

Lemon Township, Ohio, took the same approach and started using the county sheriff services just this year, though their motivation was purely cost savings. Lemon Township isn’t alone.

Other police departments have disbanded for purely financial reasons.

San Bernardino, Calif., is a prime example. At one point last fall, the city considered disbanding its award-winning, nationally recognized police force in order to save money and combine services with surrounding towns. The police force stayed in place in the end, but that wasn’t the case in Laflin, Pa.

The small town two hours north of Philadelphia decided last December to eliminate its police force to save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for local taxpayers. Policing services in the rural area are now covered by state troopers.

From day one, we have known that this day was coming, and we’ve been fighting to prevent it.
— Thomas Parry, councilman, Laflin, Pa.

A local media, Citizen’s Voice, reported extensively on the City Council meeting where the decision was made. Comments from councilors reflect a scenario that is becoming increasingly typical for cash-strapped towns that desperately need to find ways to cut costs.

“From day one, we have known that this day was coming, and we’ve been fighting to prevent it,”  Councilman Thomas Parry told upset members of the community about the decision. “We’ve reached out to the police on numerous occasions, we’ve reached out to neighboring communities on multiple occasions trying to work out some possible alternative.”

In Texas, local leadership in Sharpstown, a subdivision of Houston, figured out a cost-saving alternative to its additional security (it is under the jurisdiction of the Houston PD) that has also reduced crime. Not satisfied to just cut costs, Sharpstown let the constable force contract lapse, then brought on a private security force called SEAL Security.