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Published: Thursday, 5/9/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Toledo failed to satisfy $7M safety grant

Federal audit shows city never had enough patrol officers

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The city of Toledo violated the terms of a $7.1 million federal grant from 2009 that allowed the Finkbeiner administration to hire back 31 police officers laid off because of budgets cuts, according to a document released Wednesday by the city.

The city applied in March, 2009, to receive nearly $34.6 million over three years from the COPS Hiring Recovery Program.

That could have allowed the city to bring back the 75 officers laid off May 1, 2009, and hire an additional 75 officers.

Instead, Toledo got enough federal money to pay for 31 police officers, not 150 officers, as it requested.

The money came with strings attached. The city had to maintain a certain number of police officers. Finkbeiner administration officials said the city was required to maintain a minimum level of 564 sworn officers for four years. There currently are about 592 sworn officers.

Now, Councilman D. Michael Collins and Toledo police Capt. George Kral said the city never has been in compliance because the grant specified the city must keep a minimum of 495 patrolmen — the lowest rank for police officers — not the number of all officers on the force.

The city now has 457 patrolmen and 135 command officers.

“We have never been in compliance,” Captain Kral said. “When we got [the grant] in 2009, we were right at the number of patrolmen.”

Retirements forced the number of patrolmen to dip below the required figure and the city never recovered, he said.

Thirty patrolmen retired in 2009, 21 patrolmen retired in 2010, 39 patrolmen retired in 2011, and 21 retired in 2012.

“I spoke with our grant [representative] in Washington and since we have been actively hiring, and and as long as a city is making a good-faith effort to keep its numbers up, there will not be any problem,” Captain Kral said.

The problems Captain Kral referred to is the possibility that the city would have to return the money, which would plunge the city into the red.

Police Chief Derrick Diggs, in a letter to Toledo councilmen, confirmed the federal Office of the Inspector General had conducted an audit on the matter.

“The only main concern from the OIG audit was that we never maintained the level of patrol officers that we were supposed to,” the chief wrote.

Deputy Mayor and Safety Director Shirley Green said it takes up to nine months to hire and train a class of police recruits. Police officers are used to running background checks for firefighters and police recruits and they also run the academy for police cadets. That means a larger class would require more police officers to be pulled off the streets, Ms. Green said.

The threat of losing the grant money has been an issue for Mayor Mike Bell.

In the first year of his administration, Mayor Bell proposed laying off 125 officers to save $4.08 million toward a $48 million deficit in the general fund.

At the time, then-Police Chief Mike Navarre said in a March 8, 2010, letter to the mayor: “I have determined that laying off 100 officers would require that we forfeit the remaining portion of the COPS hiring grant and the loss of $5,502,501.”

Mr. Collins, a former police officer and president of the patrolmen's union, raised the issue by asking Chief Diggs for answers about the grant money. “This first thing we need to do is be forthright and admit that we have failed to comply with the terms and conditions,” Mr. Collins said.

He said there is actually one less police officer working now than when Mr. Bell first took office in January, 2010.

Mr. Bell has asserted several times that no officers were hired in the four years preceding his term and that he has hired more police officers and firefighters than any previous strong mayor. Toledo’s strong-mayor form of government began in 1993.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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