TO KEEP a city vibrant, to keep residents from deserting it, to encourage them to come and stay, officials must offer the basics of safety and security. That makes potential cuts in Toledo's police and fire divisions alarming.
A city's livability is enhanced by effective crime prevention and fast response to crimes, especially those in progress. Also, for public safety and to keep the lid on homeowners' insurance rates, there must be a perceived and real fire, health, and disaster emergency response.
All these things take people. It is no accident, for example, that New York City's successful efforts in crime reduction in the 1990s involved fast information gathering, fast analysis of crimes by location, and rapid deployment of more, not fewer, officers to get rid of the problems.
The current assignment of police patrols to a problem area, bordered by Summit Street to the Greenbelt Parkway and Cherry Street to Lagrange, is in line with the New York approach. The city should maintain and expand this capability.
Already we've seen disturbing examples of undermanning. When police chases cross into Toledo from neighboring communities, there is no guarantee of immediate Toledo police assistance, even at current manpower levels.
The debate should not be about standardized acceptable ratios of police to population, but the number of police needed to effectively protect the city and its residents.
Two hard facts remain. City revenues this year are trailing those of last year by 1.3 percent and the city's budget must be balanced.
Something has to give, and that's why we've lately seen police and firefighters going high profile to urge more effort to get people to move back into the city, more job-producing economic development in the city, and, though even they don't like it, higher taxes. Urban viability and elegance don't come cheap.
Taxes would be a tough sell, though residents of most neighborhoods want to see more police patrols and no one wants fire trucks coming too late to save a burning building or a life.
As tough as proposing tax increases is politically, so is the notion of privatizing trash collections or, by way of indirect tax, to lay on new fees for trash collection. Neither is new or ideal. But these aren't ideal times, and they are a better option than cutting police and fire services.
Crime, despite little spikes since the recession set in, has dropped in Toledo, and this is in no small part due to a police presence in junior and senior high schools, increased involvement in community services via block watches, evening bicycle patrols, and district stations that make officers neighborhood familiars. Toledoans lose any of them at their peril.
Logic reduces the dilemma to an unpleasant choice of higher taxes, new fees, or elimination of the overhead - personnel, equipment, benefits, etc. - of an entire division that lends itself to private enterprise.
But cutting police and fire, even as a last resort, diminishes a community.