BENTON HARBOR — It’s not a done deal yet, but Benton Harbor is one step closer to getting the OK to combine the police and fire departments.
Benton Harbor's emergency financial manager, Joseph Harris, wants Benton Harbor police and fire to merge into the Benton Harbor Public Safety Department, making the firefighters and police “public safety officers.”
It sounds like a bowl of confusion, but supporters say the concept is simple. The challenge is getting the police and firefighters union to agree.
Representatives from the respective unions are not talking, but the details are being worked out.
WSBT News learned the union signed a “memorandum of understanding” — a formal agreement that allows the city to take an important step toward combining police and firefighters into public safety officers.
Under the terms of the current firefighter union contract, no one can fight fires except firemen.
The deal hinges on two points: Firefighters have to agree cops can fight fires, and police officers have to agree firemen can fight crime.
WSBT news also learned the city and firefighter union must hash out some operational and economic concerns, but negotiations continue between the two and the city and police supervisor union.
Talks between the city and the police patrolmen union are a different story.
"The patrolmen union has not indicated when they will come back to the bargaining table,” Harris said. “We [the city] are ready to meet with them."