An Open Investigation

Exploring Police Consolidation in Milwaukee County’s North Shore

September 2022


Over the past decade, the Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) has conducted more than a dozen service sharing and consolidation studies for local governments seeking to explore the benefits of collaboration with neighbors in key functional areas. These governments approached us for a variety of reasons, including the hope of creating new efficiencies that might reduce the cost of existing services or service upgrades and the potential to more effectively serve residents by creating larger departments with greater staff capacity and equipment.

Most of WPF’s studies have focused on metro Milwaukee, but they have also stretched as far south as Kenosha and Rock counties, as far north as the Fox Valley, and as far west as La Crosse County. Perhaps no area in the state, however, has been more successful in recognizing the benefits of service sharing and consolidation than Milwaukee County’s North Shore (consisting of the villages of Bayside, Brown Deer, Fox Point, River Hills, Shorewood, and Whitefish Bay and the City of Glendale).

In 2015, upon the 20th anniversary of the creation of the North Shore Fire Department, WPF performed an analysis that quantified the considerable financial and service-level benefits that had been generated by consolidation. The seven North Shore municipalities also have consolidated their health departments and dispatch centers and there has been partial consolidation with regard to libraries, courts, and information technology services.

One of the few large functional areas that has not been subject to consolidation in the North Shore is police services, despite numerous studies conducted for one or more communities. In late 2021, facing the need for expensive upgrades to the city’s police headquarters, Glendale’s mayor approached WPF to re-examine this issue. After consulting with top elected officials and managers at the six other North Shore municipalities and confirming their openness to a study, WPF and the City of Glendale reached agreement on a research plan to model options for a consolidated North Shore Police Department and broadly assess its financial and service-level impacts.

This study is a high-level analysis that seeks to assist policymakers and citizens in better understanding police services in their communities. Analysis and reflection of the comprehensive data sets we collected also yield several insights that speak to the efficacy of consolidation.

We use those data sets to inform the development of two staffing models for a consolidated department. The two models can be used to assess potential fiscal and service-level impacts and key decisions when it comes to consolidation, but considerable further analysis and negotiation would be required to actually implement a consolidated department. In addition, our charge was only to consider a single consolidated department; the communities may wish to “start small” with some less comprehensive consolidation alternatives, but we do not provide analysis of such options.

This study was undertaken with the cooperation and consultation of the police chiefs and city/village managers from each of the seven North Shore communities. We also relied heavily on data supplied by the consolidated dispatch center in Bayside. While none of the officials we interviewed individually or in groups were asked to support or reject the notion of consolidation, all were willing to spend time with us to ensure the accuracy of our data analysis and modeling.

In the report, we lay out the factors that should be considered when it comes to police consolidation in Milwaukee’s North Shore. We do not endorse any one plan or model discussed in this report; rather, we encourage leaders across the seven communities to consider our research as they seek to provide high-quality law enforcement services at a reasonable price for their citizens. Continue reading…