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EDITORIAL

Does the city need a director of public safety?

Monday, December 2, 2013 - 8:53 am

It could bring either better coordination of more bureaucracy.

In naming Rusty York to head the newly reinstated position of public safety director, Mayor Tom Henry appears to have picked the best person for the job. As a 36-year veteran of the Police Department, 14 as its chief, York knows the workings of the most important public safety department better than anyone.

The question, then, is whether Fort Wayne actually needs a public safety director. That is very much open to debate.

History is not a good guide in this case. Some mayors have felt the need to fill the position, and some have done without it. There has been no discernible rise or fall in crime or other safety threats traceable to the presence or absence of a director. York’s salary won’t increase, but Henry says filling the director’s position will add about $55,000 to the city’s budget. Granted, that isn’t much, but in challenging economic times, a good case should be made for every penny spent.

Filling the position for the first time since 1999 has the potential for both good and bad. On the positive side, it could bring better coordination among the functions overseen by the director – operations of the police, fire and animal control departments and 911 emergency services. On the negative side, there is the potential to create another layer of bureaucracy that will put distance between the mayor’s office and affected departments.

The job will be Henry’s and York’s to define, and much will depend on the blueprint they come up with. There were a lot of generalities about “working tirelessly” to make the city “as safe as possible” when the mayor made the announcement. Now, let’s hear specifics, and sooner rather than later.

We hope reinstatement of the position is not a knee-jerk response to one particular piece of distressing public safety news – the alarming rise in homicides this year. The count now stands at 42, only two away from the all-time record. Keeping score by calendar year is too arbitrary to mean that much, and keeping people from shooting each other requires creative thinking by a lot of people, not just another bureaucrat to coordinate the work of other bureaucrats.

And that one issue shouldn’t overshadow other concerns – making sure there are a sufficient number of firefighters correctly deployed, for example. In fact, setting priorities has to be York’s main focus.

But public safety is an important issue, and this is an approach that might do some good. Everyone should wish all the best for York and much success for the work of the new office.