City to investigate combined police, fire department


AUBURN — Police patrol officers and firefighters would share the Central Fire Station, but police detectives and management for both would move to Auburn Hall, according to a plan unveiled Monday to combine the Police and Fire departments.

“At this point, we have many more questions than we have answers about how this would work,” City Manager Glenn Aho told councilors. “This would just let staff move in baby steps and begin the exploration phase.”

Councilors voted 5-2 to direct staff to research the proposal further and begin work drawing up an ordinance combining the two, creating a public safety department to replace the Police and Fire departments.

Police Chief Phil Crowell presented the plan to councilors, mapping out how it could be structured. Crowell would act as public safety chief, a fire chief and police chief answering to him. Patrol and fire divisions would stay separate, but administrative, records, support services, criminal investigations, inspections and training and the school resource officers would become part of a joint department. The joint services and the chiefs would all be located in Auburn Hall.

The Auburn Police Department is at 1 Minot Ave. The Central Fire station is at 550 Minot Ave. The city also has fire substations on Center Street and in New Auburn.

According to Monday’s proposal, the police building would be closed. Patrol officers would be moved into the Minot Avenue fire station.

Ultimately, Crowell said the proposal should save the city money — but that’s not why it’s being considered.

“The purpose is not simply to reduce costs,” he said. “Doing that, at the detriment of two very highly-functioning departments, is not what we want to happen. We think there are efficiencies we can create.”

The proposal was already controversial. Acting Chief Mike Minkowsky of the Fire Department said he was not consulted enough before Monday’s discussion.

“It’s disrespectful to me and to my organization,” Minkowsky said. “To have this put to a vote without my input — no more than a cursory walk through in Auburn Hall’s offices — makes me extremely disappointed.”

That convinced Councilor Belinda Gerry not to support Monday’s measure.

“I think it sounds like a neat idea, but not having this presented by the police chief and the acting fire chief together, that’s what’s not giving me the warm fuzzies about this idea,” Gerry said.

Councilor Eric Samson also voted against the measure, saying it sounded too formal.

“I don’t want to move far along this decision until I know what this is going to mean for fire response times, or for police responses,” Samson said. “My concern is that this is moving ahead and we can’t answer those questions.”

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