The new Niles police chief, with the help of a City Council ally, should push to close Trumbull County's last municipal jail.
Robert Hinton took over as the police chief several weeks ago. His duties include overseeing the Niles jail.
Operating a jail is financially inefficient for communities and pulls officers off the streets, where they are more needed. That's why every other community in Trumbull County closed its jail - physical upkeep, food, medical treatment and the risk of liability if an inmate gets hurt or dies in custody is too expensive.
They also closed their jails because patrol officers were often assigned to prepare and serve food, supervise visitations, tend to medical issues and conduct hourly checks. For prisoners who demonstrate signs of suicide or intoxication, the check is every 15 minutes.
Niles taxpayers are better off without these costs. Niles residents and businesses are safer without officers tending to inmates.
Hinton knows this.
''It is a huge liability,'' the chief said shortly after taking command. ''We want to make sure the use of the city jail is cost effective. It takes a lot of manpower hours to operate the jail.''
The solution is to contract for guaranteed space at the county jail. Sure, the city could end up paying for unused space, but Niles already has time when its own jail is not full.
Niles, like many other towns, should maintain a holding cell where it could keep prisoners until it's convenient for an officer to transport to the county lockup. A holding cell also would be useful when the police determine that a suspect simply needs a cooling-down period rather than incarceration.
During his re-election campaign, Councilman at-large Stephen G. Pappalas said, ''We need to get out of the jail business.'' Pappalas is among the city leaders who have kept a vigilant eye on city finances, making Niles perhaps the most solvent community in Trumbull County. Closing the jail fits Niles' frugal habits.
It might be useful for Hinton and Pappalas to provide data to those reluctant to close the jail. Showing in writing how much Niles spends versus the cost of a county contract plus transportation would help. So, too, would statistics on how much time patrol officers spend on inmates now compared to how much time they would spend transporting them to the county.
In the end, we're pretty sure Hinton and Pappalas are correct in saying the city would be better off out of the jail business.