Wednesday, April 04, 2001

Boone police merger approved

Move mirrors Bullitt County's

By Jim Hannah
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BURLINGTON — Boone County police and sheriff's departments will be the next Kentucky law enforcement agencies to merge.

        Boone Fiscal Court voted 3-1 Tuesday to combine the forces by July 1. Commissioner Robert Hay cast the dissenting vote.

        Boone will be the fifth of the state's 120 counties to have a countywide police department, said Boone Sheriff Mike Helmig. The others are Campbell, Jefferson, Oldham and Woodford counties.

        Officials from throughout the state, from the Kentucky Sheriff's Association to the Justice Cabinet, couldn't say for sure how many county police departments have been folded into sheriff's departments, a constitutional office.

    No one will lose their jobs or any benefits because of the merger. Boone County Police Chief James Whalen will become one of two chief deputies in the merged department, with the title of colonel.
    Most issues involving equipment, uniforms and vehicles have been resolved. The sheriff's office will switch to the same duty belt, chemical spray and weapon that county police use, a Glock pistol.
    Officers of the merged department will become deputy sheriffs and carry a sheriff's badge and wear brown sheriff's uniforms. County police cruisers will be repainted to match the sheriff's vehicles.
    The one-time cost of merging the departments is estimated at $123,000. The merger is not expected to save any money, but is an efficiency move.
    Source: Boone County Sheriff's Department
        The rise and fall of one county police department — as recorded in articles in The Courier-Journal's archives — mirrors the Boone County issue in many ways.

        Bullitt County created a county police force in 1974 as residents from nearby Louisville began moving in and transforming the farm community into a bedroom community of the city.

        Boone had created a county police force in 1966, when with Interstate 75 running through the county, the infrastructure was laid for the county to become a suburb of Cincinnati.

        For Bullitt, the population boom began with the completion of the old Kentucky Turnpike in the 1950s. The road opened Bullitt up to Jefferson County and Louisville. A toll booth was built in Shepherdsville, and the old turnpike was later rebuilt to become part of Interstate 65.

        Creating a county police force was never wildly popular in Bullitt, said Tom Pack, the unofficial Bullitt County historian. The 60-year-old Shepherdsville resident said the county's conservative residents didn't like spending additional money on the county police force.

        “A lot of people felt like it was a duplication of services at an extra expense,” said Mr. Pack, who is writing a book on the history of the county.

        Like Bullitt, merger supporters in Boone have often cited improved efficiency and elimination of duplicate services when arguing to combine the two depart ments.

        So when federal tax dollars to subsidize the county police dried up, Bullitt Fiscal Court voted to disband the department in 1990. The sheriff's department was given the responsibility of patrolling the county.

        The move in Bullitt was controversial at the time, and cost the county police chief his job. Bullitt County Police Chief Randall Hay was quoted in The Courier-Journal as saying he believed Fiscal Court's action was more political than financial. He said the sheriff's department wanted to get rid of the county police and threatened to sue.

        Mr. Hay, who is no relation to Boone County Commissioner Robert Hay, couldn't be reached for comment, and there is no record of him ever filing suit.

        The Boone departments were once so divided that officials pushed heavy desks up against doors separating the offices to punctuate the point. But Boone Sheriff Mike Helmig has worked hard at building bridges between the two departments during the past two years. Now the departments have a joint roll call and perform joint investigations of serious crimes.

        Lloyd “Shot” Dooley, the former Bullitt sheriff, said fiscal court gave him additional money to expand his department's police duties, which included hiring many, but not all, of the county police officers.

        Mr. Dooley, who left the sheriff's office two years ago, worked in the Bullitt sheriff's office for 25 years, 17 as sheriff.

        But even some critics in Bullitt have changed their minds over time. R.L. “Rip” Carter, who voted against disbanding, said the last 11 years have proven him wrong.

        The 58-year-old held elected offices in Bullitt for 28 years before dropping out of politics. He is now maintenance supervisor for the Heyburn Building in Louisville.

        “It did work and was the most economical decision all round,” Mr. Carter said. “I learned a lesson.”


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