Public Safety Department Measures Up

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MEXICO - For the past forty years this Missouri city has cross-trained police officers and firefighters. Mexico Public Safety Department is the only department of its kind in mid-Missouri, where 34 officers do both police and fire work. The department claims it is more efficient than having two separate entities and saves the city money. 

Chief of Public Safety Susan Rockett said "We're able to meet any challenge due to cross-training. If we roll up on a robbery we can handle it; if we come up on a hazardous material incident we can handle that; if it's a structure fire, we can handle that, too," Rockett said.

Most cities have separate departments for police and fire, meaning one department may have to call in the other once it is on the scene. But Rockett said Mexico spends no time waiting for someone else to come to the rescue.

Mexico Public Safety has $2.725 million budgeted this year for both police and fire services provided by 34 officers. By contrast, neighboring Fulton has $3.260 million on its police and fire department with 27 full-time police officers and 24 full-time firefighters--51 officers total. Moberly budgets $3.915 million for its fire and police departments, with 24 full-time firefighters and 29 full-time police officers--53 total. 

In terms of effectiveness, Mexico, Fulton and Moberly have the same ISO class rating. The ISO rating measures the firefighting capability of the respective departments for insurance purposes. Class 1 represents superior property fire protection, and Class 10 indicates that the area's fire-suppression program doesn't meet ISO's minimum criteria. All three cities have a rating of Class 4.

On the police side, Mexico's totaled 338 crimes in 2012, with 304 property crimes at a rate of 203 crimes per 10,000 citizens and 38 violent crimes at a rate of 33 crimes per 10,000. Fulton had 474 property crimes at a rate of 372 crimes per 10,000 people and 36 violent crimes at a rate of 28 crimes per 10,000. Moberly had 616 total crimes with 597 property crimes at a rate of 413 crimes per 10,000 residents, and 26 violent crimes at a rate of 19 crimes per 10,000.

Mexico Public Safety Major Brice Mesko said public safety departments can be run differently, but Mexico opted for the traditional and most truest kind of public safety. 

"Our crime rates are as good or better than anyone else our size, our solve rate in the investigations that we do are as good or better than anyone our size, our firefighting efforts are as good or better than anyone else our size," Mesko said. 

"The way we've chosen to do it is we cross train everybody from the ground up, from the time you start here you are police and fire and that goes all the way up through the chief, to the number one person," Mesko said. 

Approximately 130 jurisdictions merged police and fire administrations out of the more than 18,000 agencies in the U.S in the last fifty years. Most mergers involve rural jurisdictions, but there are few large cities that use a cross-trained department.

Rockett said the public safety model created efficiency by allowing for more bodies to be on the street for fire or law, but there are few hidden obstacles such as personnel overtime. 

But in a study by asking residents if they support consolidating fire, law enforcement and EMS into one department, 82 percent said no.

"Mexico residents are used to the way our public safety system works, because it's been like this for 40 years," Rockett said.

Sikeston is another Missouri city that has also consolidated departments. Surrounding cities said they are not looking for a merger anytime soon.