The merging of city and county police departments in Louisville, Ky., was by all accounts a wild affair — a shotgun wedding that brought reluctant partners together for the greater good of efficient operations.

The conflicts were stormy and emotional, though reports of fist fights were denied, and saw officers leave in what was described as a mass exodus of high-ranking officers whose executive positions had vanished.

The issues of police consolidation in Louisville are germane to Evansville and Vanderburgh County because, with a merger under consideration here, law enforcement may prove the most difficult point of contention, as it was in Kentucky's largest city.

And yet, despite all of the hard feelings that police consolidation produced in Louisville, the police chief there, Robert C. White, says it was well worth the headaches.

In a page one report in today's Evansville Courier & Press, White said, "We have one way of policing. If it's a case at the border of the county and the city, you no longer have to figure out, 'Do I call the county, do I call the city?' There's no duplication. This is more effective and efficient."

With the Louisville merge, approved on a 2000 ballot initiative, the city and county police departments were brought together in 2003 under a single police chief, appointed by the mayor. The Jefferson County sheriff, a constitutional office there as in Indiana, was left with only secondary law enforcement duties.

That single change in Louisville may best provide a look at the future for the reorganization committee currently drafting a consolidation plan for Evansville and Vanderburgh County.

Here, a public safety subcommittee has recommended that the city and county police departments be consolidated under the leadership of the elected sheriff. The full committee has not yet acted upon that recommendation; indeed, given the intensity of the debate between Evansville Police Chief Brad Hill and Vanderburgh County Sheriff Eric Williams, we'd be surprised to find the full committee unified behind its subcommittee, but a vote may come as early as Thursday.

Indeed, what the committee heard Thursday and what can be found in today's Courier & Press report suggests that the subcommittee may be off the mark.

In today's news report, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson says he could not imagine entrusting a merged police department to a separately elected official who would be independent of him.

"When you get into a conflict with a separately elected official who has control of the number one issue I've got to deal with, I think you create an atmosphere of obvious conflict," he said.

That was the view, as well, of Chief Hill, who addressed the reorganization committee Thursday.

He said that if the mayor and the elected sheriff get into some sort of political fight, it could draw the rest of the department into the fray, essentially dividing local law enforcement.

"I think that is something you try to avoid," he said.

We should avoid, as well, staking the long-term future of law enforcement in Evansville and Vanderburgh County to the personalities currently in office. Hill said as much Thursday in an appearance before the reorganization committee.

Evansville has two solid law enforcement chiefs, Hill, who was appointed by Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel, and Williams, who was elected, and is so well liked by the electorate that he could likely choose his future office. Overall, the sheriff's department is considered more popular that the city department, in part because of the different responsibilities.

Regardless, as earlier reports on consolidation in Nashville and Lexington tell us, consolidation is a long-term plan for streamlining local government. It is designed to make government work well long after the current individuals are gone. Hence, the decision should be based on the best system, not who is in office today.

But finding that best system, as the Louisville experience suggests, may be quite the ride.

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