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Op-Ed: A Case For Subsidiarity Over Centralization |

Graphic and Opinion by Wil Levins

Subsidiarity vs Centralization

Subsidiarity is an organizing principle stating that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized competent authority.  

When Government has a specific role to play in fulfilling a public need (like policing) it has subsections or lower levels of Government to delegate responsibility for greater efficiency and effectiveness to the People.  

For example: 

  • The Federal Government is responsible for our military/national law enforcement agencies.
  • State governments are responsible for their own state police departments/national guard units.
  • County governments are responsible for their own sheriff's departments.
  • Municipal governments are responsible for their own local police departments.

This delegation of responsibility allows each level of government to provide more appropriate, effective and efficient management of public responsibilities and resources based on population densities and community variations.  

In the case of the Camden County Police Plan, I believe the principle of subsidiarity serves individual municipalities better than a centralized, regional department. 

Taking the position that promotes "small government" representation, I believe that a countywide police force would make sense for Camden County if it were rural, like in a Southern State, with a sparse population spread out over a large region.  However, when it comes to policing the high population density of Camden County, the subsidiarity principle is more appropriate than centralization and better supports local civic control with individual police departments.  Municipal police departments are better equipped to satisfy the needs of the individual community with high population densities. I also contend that many Camden County municipalities will likely suffer with a move to a regional police force because of the county's  broader scope of responsibility will concentrate resources differently than they are focused today.

Another very important aspect of the subsidiarity principle is the benefit of "small government" control and oversight by local authorities and their constituents.  Direct control at the local level allows for more detailed scrutiny and accountability of public officials and departments.  A more appropriate action, instead of centralization, would be in shared service agreements between individual communities.  Communities entering into a consensual, mutually beneficial, shared-services agreement would help lower operating costs while maintaining local government autonomy.  Under shared service agreements, municipalities retain their right to withdraw from such agreements, as their residents see fit, and with much less difficulty than within a regional plan where individual community's police departments are disbanded, officers fired and equipment sold off.