Can a nearly empty police station deter crime? The Toledo Police Department and Mayor Mike Bell's administration say no. Residents of West Toledo say yes. That creates a problem.
City and police officials want to close the Northwest District Station on Sylvania Avenue and sell it to an investment company for $270,000. They note that patrol officers haven't reported there since 2008, so it won't change response times or how the neighborhood is policed.
They argue correctly that there are about 150 fewer Toledo police officers now than there were in 1997, when the station opened. They say the city will save thousands of dollars a year in heating, electricity, and maintenance costs -- money that could be used more effectively elsewhere to make the city safer.
The West Toledo neighborhood is not a high-crime area, and residents want to keep it that way. People who live or own businesses there say just having a police station nearby makes people think twice about committing crimes. They insist it makes business owners and residents feel safer and more confident about staying or moving there.
Others questioned the finances of the city's proposal. They wonder whether it is wise to sell for $270,000 a building that cost $460,000 just a few years ago.
Toledo City Council, moved by the residents' concerns, voted against the sale. The Bell administration responded that it will close the building and continue to market it. Area residents have rallied to protest the closing, and a petition drive is in the works to try to persuade the mayor to change his mind.
Is there a deterrent effect to keeping the building open, even when patrol officers no longer stop there? Many West Toledo residents believe so, but they don't have statistics to back up their intuition.
Police officials say no, but they don't offer statistics either. Nor have they explained why their intuition is more reliable than the gut reaction of local residents.
When the station opened in 1997, it was intended to bring police closer to the community they served, and make access to the police department easier for neighborhood residents. The station was supposed to mean quicker response times, more police presence, and more access to investigators.
Eleven years later, patrol officers were removed from the station to save money. Within a week, a woman was assaulted in the station parking lot, leading some to ask whether the attack would have been prevented if officers had been there.
Now, the city wants to close the station. It is understandable that area residents feel deserted. And the number of shootings, arsons, and other crimes in Toledo in recent months likely has made them fearful as well.
The Bell administration should address residents' concerns, not just dismiss their fears. Public safety can't be reduced to dollars and cents.