Newberry weighing launch of police force

Police lights

It’s a topic that Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe and the city have discussed since 2016.

“We’re pretty far down the path,” Marlowe said about the possibility that the City of Newberry will invest in a police force.

“We’ve been talking about it for four years,” he said referring to a turn of events that sparked the discussion in 2016 when the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASO) asked for a 19 percent increase in costs for serving the city.

“That got us started,” Marlowe said. 

The cost of the contract between Newberry and the ASO has steadily increased. According to a three-year contract signed in 2018 for three years of service, the rate was $777,000 in 2018, $806,138 in 2019 and $836,368 in for 2020. Those annual increases ranged from 3.75 percent to 5 percent.  

But the current contract—reviewed by Mainstreet Daily News—that expires on Sept. 30, 2021, would cost the city $1,007,513 (plus health insurance and retirement cost increases). That’s an increase of more than 20 percent.

According to the contract, services include: “The full services offered by the Sheriff included advanced patrol, school resource deputies (SRDs) in each of Newberry’s three schools, and school crossing guard services. Advanced patrol services means that the Sheriff will assign one of 12 zone deputies on duty to Newberry’s city limits at all times.”

At the Sept. 28 regular meeting the Newberry Commission voted to terminate the contract for law enforcement services between the city and the ASO.

In a letter dated Sept. 30, 2020, Marlowe wrote to then-Sheriff Sadie Darnell the Newberry Commission, “Please accept this correspondence as written notice that the City is terminating the agreement effective July 1, 2021. We intend to continue providing monthly payments for law enforcement services through June, 2021.”

Jordan Marlowe

Recent crime within six blocks of Newberry City Hall is also playing a role in the possible push for a dedicated police force, Marlowe said.

On Jan. 10, 2021 two people were shot at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on NW 6th Avenue. 

Three weeks prior, on Dec. 13, thieves ransacked a home on SW 260th Street and stole two guns.

On Dec. 15, 2020, a teen was arrested in connection to a burglary at a home on NW 3rd Avenue. While ASO was searching for the suspect, both Oak View Middle and Newberry High schools were involved in a lockdown.

Marlowe said it is still possible to negotiate a new contract with the ASO: “We are waiting to see how things go with the new sheriff.” 

The City of Newberry is prepared for it to go either way.

“We have a budget,” Marlowe said. “We have a location and a plan for construction.”

Marlowe said the city projects a dedicated police force to require a $1.5 million annual investment, which represents “$400,000 a year more than what we pay now.”  However, he said the city would likely get much more for its money. Right now Newberry has one officer patrolling its streets, while the $1.5 million budget would include hiring 10 officers. 

“The benefit of a city police force is that they are embedded into the community,” Marlowe said. With the ASO, “There is no shot of us having a cop stop and play basketball at MLK for an hour.”  

Marlowe said the ASO’s emergency response has improved in recent years, but if the deputy has to make an arrest, it means the streets are untended for hours before the deputy returns. 

He also said since the SROs are funded by the school board, the city should see a decrease in cost for ASO’s service.

“It will be about the negotiations with [Sheriff] Clovis Watson,” Marlowe reiterated. “We need a level of service that we can afford and makes us feel safe.”

If Newberry declines to renew a contract with the ASO, Marlowe said the groundwork for a new department has already been mapped out.

“We could pull the trigger and be up and running in 12 to 18 months,” he said.

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