Saying it would be a "monumental mistake" to entrust a consolidated law enforcement agency to a sheriff, Evansville Police Chief Brad Hill urged consolidation planners Thursday not to do it.

Hill told members of the Evansville-Vanderburgh County Reorganization Committee that his department should assume all law enforcement duties if consolidation comes because, among other things, it is larger and less political. The group met in an Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. board room in Downtown Evansville.

He raised the specter of a mayor of a consolidated government in open conflict with an elected sheriff of the opposite political party.

"(They could be) in some type of a political battle at some point in the future, and law enforcement would be right in the middle of that political battle, and I think that's something you try to avoid," the chief said.

Saying they didn't want to keep two law enforcement chiefs when one is not elected, members of the reorganization committee's public safety subcommittee voted in May to recommend consolidation of the Evansville Police Department and the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office into a single agency under the sheriff's direction.

But Hill sounded the alarm Thursday night.

"What the public safety subcommittee has recommended to this full committee is a mistake, in my mind, of monumental proportions," he said.

"... You cannot and must not make your decision on law enforcement based upon who is in office as sheriff or who is in the position of chief right now. You have to look beyond these personalities and look into the future for the possibility for law enforcement."

Williams told the committee the community's top law enforcement officer should not be subject to the directives of another elected official.

"Do we the people want a top law enforcement officer who is appointed by another elected official and subject to that political agenda, or do we want to elect that top law enforcement officer and at least know that whatever agenda is out there is geared totally toward public safety in the office of sheriff?" he said.

Supporting witness

Hill got support from his invited guest, former Marion County Public Safety Director Scott Newman, who said it would be "perilous" for a community to entrust law enforcement to anyone other than a mayoral appointee.

Newman, who served two years before resigning last year, witnessed the merger of the Indianapolis Police Department and the Marion County Sheriff's Department under the direction of the sheriff. He was appointed when control then shifted to the police agency under a mechanism not available in Vanderburgh County.

Newman said Americans instinctually hold mayors responsible for public safety in their communities.

"I think it is perilous for a city to go away from that kind of accountability in a city setting. It has been done, and reasonable minds can differ about it, and communities will differ," he said.

After the meeting, reorganization committee chairwoman Becky Kasha said she doesn't know how many minds may have been changed.

Kasha also said she doesn't have the temperature of the full committee on the issue.

"I don't want to know," she said.

The full reorganization committee will next meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in Room 301 of the Civic Center.

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