Despite a resounding vote from Toledo City Council this week to block the sale of the police department's Northwest District Station in West Toledo, Bell administration officials affirmed Friday they intend to close the building by July 1 and continue marketing it for sale.
That decision has riled area residents who see the station on Sylvania Avenue as a crime deterrent and have lobbied council to keep it open. Community leaders, block watch members and at least two city councilmen plan to rally outside the building at 10 a.m. today to urge the administration to change its mind.
"We just want to peacefully and respectfully show that it's not just a few of us who want this. We want to get a show of support from the entire neighborhood," said Canice Bielski, who heads two area block watches representing well over 1,000 households. "It's not just a building, it's a symbol of hope for us. We don't want to allow crime to take over as it has in other neighborhoods."
She said that although the West Toledo area around the station does not have the crime problems prevalent in some other areas, drug dealing, gang activity, and break-ins have been on the rise.
John Bibish, a West Toledo resident and former city finance official, said keeping the station -- even though patrols are no longer dispatched from there -- helps people and businesses feel safe, and prevents the neighborhood from deteriorating.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he said. "Every time there's a new neighborhood that people call a tipping point, they wonder how it became a tipping point. We're not a tipping point and we don't want to be a tipping point."
Council voted Tuesday against the Bell administration's plan to sell the station for $270,000 to an investment company. Only two councilmen, Adam Martinez and Rob Ludeman, voted in favor of the sale. Those opposed to the deal, particularly District 5 Councilman Tom Waniewski, said their desire was to heed residents' concerns. Some questioned the price of the building, arguing it was too low given the roughly $460,000 the city originally paid for it.
"I'm very interested in selling off our assets, but I think when it comes to this it's something the neighbors feel very strongly about, and I'm their representative," Mr. Waniewski said. "This isn't a fight with the administration. … It's a fight against crime."
Administration officials maintain the station's presence has no bearing on crime levels or police presence in the area. Patrols have not been dispatched from the station since 2008, and only one full-time officer staffs the building to answer questions and take in police reports, Safety Director Shirley Green said. A special victims unit and senior volunteer program are in the building but can be moved, she added.
Closing the station will save the city thousands of dollars a year in electricity, heating, and repair costs, Ms. Green said. Toledo also has far fewer sworn officers than it did in 1997, when the station opened. Back then, the city had 723 police officers, but today it has 575, not enough to justify keeping it open, she said.
"Chief [Derrick] Diggs and I are looking at this from a purely operational viewpoint," the director said.
But some councilmen expressed shock at the administration's determination to move forward with plans to close and sell the building despite council's disapproval and opposition from the residents.
"I'm very surprised that the administration would take such a callous approach to the will of the people," Councilman D. Michael Collins said. The administration "is totally autocratic."
"It's sort of an 'I'm taking my toys and going home mentality' rather than working with council to try to find a solution," Councilman Joe McNamara said. "I think there might be some sort of compromise that can be reached, but the administration seems fixed in finding a way to close and sell the building."
Councilman George Sarantou, who said he will attend the rally today on behalf of Mr. Waniewski, who is out of town, called on the administration to listen to the citizens.
"I think there are numerous opportunities to maintain a [police] presence in that building," he said. "It's very important for the Bell administration to listen very carefully to what the taxpayers and residents of that particular area want."
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at email@example.com or 419-724-6272.