Lopez issues her safety plan

Mayoral candidate unable to offer specifics on police staffing

Anita Lopez speaks during a press conference at Ottawa Park, Wednesday.
Anita Lopez speaks during a press conference at Ottawa Park, Wednesday.

Anita Lopez’s plan for Toledo includes hiring more police officers if she’s elected mayor, but she could not say how many are on the force now, how many more the city needs, or how she would pay for additional officers with the city’s already austere general fund budget.

Ms. Lopez, the Lucas County auditor who is among seven people on the September ballot for Toledo mayor, released her “Safe and Strong Neighborhoods” plan during a news conference Wednesday outside the Toledo Police Museum in West Toledo.

Ms. Lopez, a Democrat, said the Toledo police department is understaffed and neighborhoods are suffering as a result.

“As mayor we will be creating a new approach to how we work on safety and most importantly the strength of our neighborhoods,” she said.

Ms. Lopez was pressed by reporters several times but could not give a “ballpark” estimate of the number of current police officers but said she would like to see between 700 and 900 sworn officers total working in Toledo. She did not address how the city would afford vehicles for the additional officers.

Ms. Lopez also said she would implement a community policing plan and create “Toledo Neighborhood Teams,” which would be made up by taking city staffers out of One Government Center and putting them “in the community.” She could not offer any specifics about that idea other than to say it would be done without increasing the budget.

“This will effectively create directors without increasing payroll and without adding paid positions. What we will do is put existing positions into action in the neighborhoods,” she said.

Ms. Lopez promised specifics closer to the September primary.

“The number may be even higher than we currently have as necessary for full staff which needs at a minimum to be about the 700 number, closer to the 800 or 900, I am thinking, but again, that is not going to take place unless you have a mayor who knows how to cut budgets when necessary,” she said.

She promised to “cut the fat” from city government, implying that she would remove non-preforming or under-performing employees and replace them with other workers.

The other major candidates in the race balked at Ms. Lopez’s plan because it lacked specifics.

Independents Mayor Mike Bell and Councilman D. Michael Collins each knew the number of police officers: 586, which includes 454 patrolmen and 132 command officers. Democratic Councilman Joe McNamara was able to pinpoint the force at “about 580, which includes more than 400 patrolmen.”

Mayor Bell called Ms. Lopez’s ideas empty political rhetoric.

“I think that her remarks on this are ill-prepared and until she can say where she can get the money, she should move on to things she is better suited to talk about,” Mr. Bell said.

He said employing a total of 700 to 900 police officers is not possible with the city’s budget.

“It’s not possible with the current budget,” the mayor said. “You would have to raise taxes or there would have to be a huge influx of money from somewhere. If it could be done, we would have done it already.”

The mayor said the city is already “running lean and there is no fat to cut.”

Mr. McNamara also was critical of Ms. Lopez’s lack of knowledge on police operations but also said violent crime in Toledo is on the rise under Mr. Bell’s watch.

“As mayor, I will hire more police and implement community policing for the city,” he said. “At Lopez’s press conference today she did what she has done throughout the campaign, give empty soundbites written by her staff without any details or knowledge of the issues and we can’t trust someone who doesn’t know the facts to be a strong mayor for Toledo.”

Ms. Lopez, Mr. McNamara, and Mr. Collins all have criticized the mayor for not hiring more police officers to keep up with retirements.

Mayor Bell has repeatedly pointed out that crime has been reduced under his watch and that he hired more police officers and firefighters than the previous two administrations combined.

“The mayor made a commitment about a year ago to be at 600 and we just had a class graduate,” said Deputy Mayor Shirley Green. “Sixty-five more will be hired this year, which will put us over [600].”

Among the mayor’s assertions is that crime fell 24 percent during the first three months of 2013 versus the same period last year.

According to FBI numbers, Toledo’s total crime was down 9.49 percent in 2012 over 2011. The Toledo police department's annual report says total crime was down 18.34 percent — or it was down 17.82 percent according to an April 16 memo from Police Chief Derrick Diggs.

The different sources of crime statistics are not easily compared because they offer numbers on different types of crime.

Mr. Collins said he plans to hire 40 officers a year for four years. With an expected 25 to 30 retirements each year, that would mean a net gain of 40 to 60 officers by the end of one four-year term.

“Anita Lopez has no idea what is involved in the delivery of police services in an urban environment,” Mr. Collins said.

“While I credit her for having a platform, I would expect it to be based in fact and not speculation.”

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