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Published: Monday, 8/2/2004

City police might be a target for budget cuts

BY TOM TROY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

On any given afternoon, the city has 44 police officers in cars available to respond to a call for service.

Throughout the day, there also are officers working the entry team, traffic section, community services unit, detective bureau, aviation unit, mounted patrol, and other divisions.

In all, the Toledo Police Division has 690 sworn officers and 116 civilian employees - numbers city officials would like to maintain.

But with city revenues continuing to stagnate, attention is increasingly focusing on police, along with fire and trash collection, as unavoidable targets in the next round of budget-cutting.

"With a $14 million problem in 2005, we are looking at each and every department," Tom Crothers, Mayor Jack Ford's acting finance director, said last week. "There are several departments that have taken a number of cuts over the years in an effort to maintain current staffing in police and fire."

Last month, the city's finance department reported that city income tax revenues for the first six months were trailing last year's revenues for the same period by 1.3 percent. If that doesn't turn around, the city may have to cut positions and programs to balance this year's $230 million general fund budget, even before making painful decisions for 2005.

Mr. Crothers said a task force is meeting weekly to plan for budget cuts. The task force includes directors of the bigger departments and the city auditor.

In the last 2 1/2 years, the administration has eliminated dozens of general fund jobs, mostly through attrition, as income tax revenues have failed to rebound from the 2000 recession.

Jobs have been eliminated in parks and recreation, economic development, city council, and the mayor's office, while the biggest departments in the general fund - police, fire, and trash collection - have been largely untouched.

Is there room to cut police staffing, without imperiling safety, not to mention homeland security?

The number of sworn officers - those carrying a badge and a gun - was 746 in 1988, plummeting to 665 in 1992, and climbing to 737 in 1996. The uniformed force fell below 700 last fall for the first time since 1993.

During the same period, some sworn-officer jobs have become civilian duties, and the ranks of civilians have climbed from 53 in 1988 to a peak of 132 in 2002. Currently, there are 116 civilian employees.

Today's total police employment is 806, compared with 765 in 1994.

In that 10-year interval, the city's population has dropped, from an estimated 322,460 residents in 1994 to an estimated 308,973 in 2003, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Thus, the number of sworn officers per 1,000 people has risen slightly, compared with 1994, from 2.20 to 2.23. The number of total police department employees per 1,000 residents has increased from 2.4 to 2.6.

And while Toledo has more officers per 1,000 people, the department is handling fewer calls for service. City police received 343,351 calls for service in 1994, compared with 285,645 in 2003. As of July 15, there were 137,270 calls for service this year. Homicides declined from 44 in 1994 to 12 in 2000, ending at 23 last year.

Police officials say that's only part of the story. The police department has changed since 1994 to provide more targeted enforcement and to be more community-oriented - contributing to safer neighborhoods.

The police department has added two district stations - one in Scott Park and one on Sylvania Avenue. It has assigned police officers to the public junior and senior high schools, put officers on mountain bikes and horses, staffed an aviation unit that uses a helicopter to nail car thieves and escapees, and created a unit of community services officers who help negotiate neighborhood feuds and interact with Block Watch.

Chief Michael Navarre thinks it's a good mix of services and has fought to keep the current department intact.

He said eliminating such services may not be as cash-saving as it would appear. The helicopter, for example, is paid for by federal grants.

"There's never enough [officers] as long as you're reporting crime," Chief Navarre said, citing the nearly 25,000 crimes against persons and property reported to the FBI last year. That number doesn't include incidents such as drug offenses, shoplifting, and accidents.

The chief said no officer has been laid off in the modern history of the police department. He said when the department has taken a cut in personnel, it's usually done through attrition.

In fact, the police department appears to be experiencing attrition already. A police class that was planned to begin in 2004 may be postponed to 2005.

The Toledo Police Patrolman's Association would like to see more officers on the street. "Every division of the department is running at bare bones," union President Gregg Harris said. "There's no fat. There's no fluff."

Mr. Harris said officials have to look for ways to bring jobs to the area to boost the economy, and income tax revenues.

City council members and Mayor Jack Ford say that cutting police, fire, and trash collection are a last resort. But it's still being talked about.

"I don't see where else we can make cuts," Councilman George Sarantou, chairman of the finance committee, said. "That means cuts in police, fire, and trash collection become more likely."

Councilman Ellen Grachek, of West Toledo's District 5, said council has not been advised of any recommended cuts in police or fire, but said, "I would imagine it to be a possibility and a reality."

"The people who I represent want more police in the neighborhoods," Ms. Grachek said.

Council members are hearing from residents such as Joe Saadeh, the owner of Wally's Carryout at East Broadway and Nevada Avenue in East Toledo.

"They will have a very big problem if they cut down on police," said Mr. Saadeh, whose store was victimized by a robber in May. "I feel they should have an increase in the police force by a big number. If safety is not around, people will leave."

Mr. Saadeh's District 3 councilman, Bob McCloskey, said the recession and unemployment are contributing to crime. Indeed, Toledo experienced a small spike in crime in the last three years.

"We've got criticisms from the other unions that fire and police have been the sacred guys. But when you go out to neighborhood and Block Watch meetings, people are very concerned about high crime and lack of police protection," Mr. McCloskey said.

Chief of Staff Jay Black, Jr., said the administration has made no decisions about 2005. He said the drop in city income that was detected in June was just one month.

"The mayor has said all along that he would only consider making adjustments in fire and police and solid waste as a last resort. I don't know if we're at a last resort," Mr. Black said.

Staff Writer Christina Hall contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.



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