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Both sides could benefit in police merger

Emerging details about how the Cornelius Police Department (CPD) could consolidate operations with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) are making it seem like the concept is coming closer to reality.

Sheriff Pat Garrett and two of his deputies attended a June 19 meeting of Cornelius’ Community Oriented Policing Citizen Advisory Board (COPCAB) —only the third official meeting on the topic since it was first discussed in May. During the meeting, the three discussed in detail how law enforcement operations would be blended together and how officers would be trained and managed under the jurisdiction of the WCSO.

“The resources of the sheriff’s office are more than what we can offer you as a police department,” said Cornelius officer Craig Wellhouser. “They know that, and we know that.”

Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake said there are three requirements he believes must be met if this transition is to happen: It can’t cost more for the citizens of Cornelius; the current Cornelius police chief, Ken Summers, must remain as chief; and Cornelius’ the officers would wear their same uniforms and drive CPD police cars.

“Your officers will be your officers,” assured WCSO Undersheriff Jeff Mori. “We can’t take them all out of Cornelius. The officers that are working here would stay here. No one’s losing any money; no one’s pay is getting cut. We are just resourced differently.”

Mori said the WCSO operates in a fashion similar to the way mega-store Costco operates — buying gas along with other resources in bulk to save finances, and is independently run.

“We are already partners,” said Garrett, who wants the possible transition to be beneficial for all. “They back us up and we back them up, but a closer partnership to increase efficiency is a benefit to us and the county.”

If Cornelius police officers were to join the sheriff’s office, they would have new mandatory trainings, the ability to join specialty teams such as the county SWAT unit and other teams.

The WCSO would benefit by having more bench strength and identical training.

“When you train with someone, you know better how they’re going to respond,” said Garrett. “When doing something as simple as a building search, it ensures safety knowing other officers’ movement patterns and knowing the standardized approach to every situation.”

According to Garrett, the transfer of Cornelius officers into the WCSO would take six to eight weeks to complete, and officers working in Cornelius would stay here, unless they’d like to move. However, Mori pointed out that the officers aren’t yet past the talking stage, so he can’t say how many officers might be interested in that option. He added that one of the final details they’re working on is what vehicles the WCSO would adopt, along with a budget.

“We are taking it slow. It’s new for us and new for Cornelius,” said Garrett. “We don’t want to rush and then realize we’ve made a big mistake.”

Mori said the goal for both entities is to come to a decision before December.

“What does it do to Cornelius’ identity?” asked concerned COPCAB member Cathy Small. “Something will be lost, that’s how I feel.”

Garrett said he is sensitive to that issue. For one thing, the citizen’s advisory board would remain if the proposed transition goes through.

“And it doesn’t matter to me what Cornelius officers wear or what they drive, but if it’s important to Cornelius, we are going to do it,” Garrett added.

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