Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Police & Fire

'Sky cop,' middle school renovations for PAL program appear moving toward resolution

Two stalled issues the Bell administration has identified as priorities - both involving the police department - appear to be moving toward resolution.

Councilman D. Michael Collins at a council meeting April 16 plans to bring up Police Chief Derrick Diggs' request for $380,000 to get more data generated by 74 surveillance cameras the police department has installed high off the ground as part of its "sky cop" program.

Mr. Collins, after voicing concerns about that proposal for weeks, said at today's agenda-review meeting that he will support it.

And while the flap continues over the administration’s plan to fix up the former Leverette Middle School’s gymnasium at a cost of $250,000 for Police Athletic League programs, Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat told councilmen he believes a deal will be worked out with Toledo Public Schools to transfer ownership of the building to the city by April 30.

That would eliminate concerns some councilmen have about making a sizable investment in property the city doesn’t own, Mr. Herwat said.

The deputy mayor also said the administration will likely back off its plan to tap into a trust fund set aside for parks and recreation programs for the Leverette project, while sticking to its commitment to leave the law enforcement trust fund alone.

Mr. Collins, a former president of the local police officers’ union, held up the additional $380,000 request for the camera-surveillance program as chairman of the council’s public safety, law and criminal justice committee. It has had the request for nine weeks.

“I’m truly not trying to block it,” Mr. Collins said.

During a recent interview, Mr. Herwat questioned if Mr. Collins was trying to keep the cameras out of play to protect more union jobs. Mr. Collins denied that.

But Mr. Collins said he was not convinced the cameras worked, based on reports that had gotten back to him.

He had a change of heart today after being assured at the council meeting by Chief Diggs and Capt. Mike Troendle that only three of the 74 cameras installed to date are not streaming images to the safety building.

Captain Troendle said that’s only because they are temporarily obstructed by trees, buildings, or other obstacles. He said the fix will be a simple matter of rerouting signals.

Chief Diggs wants the money to buy computer software for the new surveillance-camera system, which cost about $1.6 million. The software is to help officers at the safety building analyze trends, so they can do a better job of mapping crime hotspots. Between 150 and 160 cameras are eventually to be installed. All were included in the original package, and will not require more money, officials have said.

The police department wants to use the former Leverette gymnasium for its Police Athletic League activities for at-risk youth, such as boxing, volleyball, and baseball. But the building needs about $250,000 put into it so it can have heating and electricity. The rest of the middle school, at 1111 Manhattan Blvd., has been demolished.

Mr. Herwat said the administration will propose using capital improvement funds instead of the trust fund dedicated to parks and recreation programs. Mr. Collins and others did not want the latter used to make improvements for a police-sponsored program in a building the city doesn’t own.

“How we deal with this is really going to set the tone for how we deal with the increasing needs for recreation and decreasing resources,” Councilman Lindsey Webb said. She and Councilman Steven Steel campaigned for a separate millage to raise money for city parks and recreation programs, but the ballot issue was defeated in last November’s general election.

Council President Paula Hicks-Hudson agreed the city needs to take a broader look at recreation funding.

Mayor Mike Bell, en route to Germany for an economic trade mission, did not attend today’s meeting.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.

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