The Bay Area city Millbrae has decided to begin negotiations with the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office to outsource police operations, as the city council looks to close a budget shortfall of more than $7 million. The move to outsource came after earlier attempts to consolidate police services with neighboring San Bruno fell through.

Funding, staffing, and operating an adequate police force has been a challenge for the city since 2005, when similar financial constraints forced the city to look into sharing police resources, outsourcing, or increasing funding for a stand-alone police force. That time, they combined options by outsourcing dispatch responsibilities and creating a shared police force. That system didn’t work.

Over the last 10 years, the department has been shrunk by about 26%, according to a city staff report.Despite the steady downsizing, the department still operates millions of dollars in the red. Bringing its force back to an adequate level could cost as much as an additional $400,000 – bringing the department’s total cost to more than $7.2 million. Under a revised proposal from the Sheriff’s office, the city will save more than half a million dollars.

If the negotiations are successfully completed and the Millbrae Police Department is dissolved, its officers would be offered positions with the Sheriff’s Office upon completion of their background checks. The Sheriff is also holding open vacancies for non-sworn officers so that staff may move into similar roles within the new structure.

Before the decision was made, the Millbrae City Council brought the discussion to the residents, holding two Town Hall meetings, which provided the community the opportunity to ask questions and hear their answers. The city then produced a question and answer document that listed the questions and concerns and provided complete answers.

As the city’s staff report says, “some of those in attendance expressed concern that the staffing levels contained in the Sheriff’s proposal were inadequate.” However, the City’s answer explained that bringing the city’s police force to a level it determined as “adequate” would require overstaffing to ensure coverage in the event of vacation or sick days. Such an increase would require cuts from other departments.

After the council met and reviewed all the relevant documents, they decided that the City’s staff should be given approval to begin negotiating with the Sheriff’s office.