Marshal, Sheriff Merger Sensible

The expected merger of the Orange County marshal's office into the Sheriff's Department is unlikely to have any immediate impact on county residents. But if it accomplishes the goal of saving money, it will be worth it.

The marshal's office long has been dwarfed by the sheriff's operation. Currently Marshal John E. Fuller commands about 500 deputies; Sheriff Mike Carona commands more than 3,000. Deputy marshals provide security at the courthouses, the point of contact for most residents, usually when summoned to jury duty. Those in trouble with the law also meet the marshals, whose other duties include transporting inmates and serving warrants.

The merger is due to take effect by the end of June if approved by the Board of Supervisors and the county's judges. In the past, the judges have balked at combining the two offices, but this time, things appear different.

The judges seem less concerned about concentrating too much power in the sheriff's hands. Carona, who was Fuller's predecessor as marshal and held the post for more than a decade before being elected sheriff in 1998, has gotten good marks.

As for the supervisors, two were very critical of Fuller's office recently for requesting an emergency infusion of $760,000 to cover unexpected costs for a new computer and database system. To underscore their dissatisfaction, the supervisors insisted that the county executive office monitor the marshal's expenditures.

The merger also is part of court consolidations. Orange, like many other counties, has merged its municipal courts into the Superior Court system. The state has taken over the job of funding the courts from the counties. Mergers should lead to more efficient operations, which includes saving money.

Orange County government has gone through other consolidations, some of them due to the bankruptcy of 1994 and the need to cut back expenditures after that fiscal disaster. Bringing the marshal's office into the Sheriff's Department makes more sense than some earlier mergers; both departments are part of the law enforcement infrastructure.

Although the state funds the courts, the supervisors control the Sheriff's Department budget. It will be their job to see that the promised savings are realized.

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