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Published: Tuesday, 2/10/2009

Trimming Toledo police officers is dangerous, union says

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Wagner Wagner
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Within days of an expected announcement by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner of deep and painful budget cuts, the head of Toledo's police union warned that crime is exploding and could spiral out of control with fewer officers.

"The city is facing an unprecedented public safety crisis," said Dan

Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association. "A

crisis caused by the city administration's failure to address the rapid acceleration and loss of officers due to turnover, retirement, and resignation."

Mr. Wagner also said the number of officers compared to residents will get worse without hiring new police this year and that Toledo is not competitive with the salaries paid by other large Ohio cities.

However, police Chief Mike Navarre disputed most of the union president's remarks.

"For three years, crime has gone down," Chief Navarre said.

The chief in November released the city's overall crime statistics in an effort to quell fears of a potential increase in crime as a result of a shrinking police force.

The statistics showed an overall decline in crime for the previous 2 1/2 years.

"I have no reason to believe November will be any different," he said.

At issue is the city's dire financial problem, which has the Finkbeiner administration struggling to close an $8.1 million deficit left from 2008 and a predicted 2009 budget shortfall.

Mr. Wagner wants the mayor to partner with the union to get federal stimulus money to hire cops.

"I am to be among a group of law enforcement officers Vice President [Joe] Biden has invited to meet with him on Feb. 11," he said. "I intend to tell the vice president about our daily struggle to protect and serve the citizens of Toledo."

Chief Navarre said the city has every intention of pursuing federal funding.

"Everything I have seen so far is that the House and Senate support the $1 billion that is contained in the stimulus package that will be for cops hiring," the chief said. "What I have been told thus far is the federal government will pay 75 percent of the salary and the municipality will pick up the remaining 25 percent, and then during the fourth year, the municipality will have to pay the full cost."

Toledo's 2009 budget, which had $21 million in cutbacks, does not include money to hire police cadets or firefighters. It also requires layoffs and mandated unpaid time off for city employees, the closing of all but one public pool, a reduction of funds for the city's criminal justice program and Toledo Municipal Court, and wage freezes for city workers.

After passing the 2009 budget, Toledo City Council learned Jan. 29 that the city is about $8.1 million in the red from 2008. Council had just a month earlier used $8 million of unspent capital improvement money to help plug a deficit - which means 2008 ran the city about $16 million into the red.

Even with the financial trouble, Mr. Wagner said letting the number of officers fall to 1.58 per 1,000 residents is dangerous.

"Toledo experienced a 33 percent spike in homicides, a 17 percent rise in burglaries, and a 17 rise in robberies," he said.

The chief said the union president is being misleading because his figures include the numbers of officers who patrol the streets. It increases to 2 officers per 1,000 residents when you factor in all sworn officers. Still, the chief admits: "Two is a low number compared to other cities."

There are currently 634 sworn officers and that number is expected to drop to about 600 because of retirements.

Toledo's murder total increased in 2008 to 20 - up from 13 in 2007.

Regarding police salaries, the chief said Toledo police officers rank second among Ohio large cities when the total compensation package is considered.

"[Toledo] and Columbus are the only cities that do pension pickup, plus we have clothing and stress allowance, career enhancement, and longevity," he said. "So if you do an apples-to-apples comparison, our guys do pretty well."

According to the chief, the annual base wage for a five-year patrolman in Toledo is $54,359 - compared to $63,939 in Columbus, $57,473 in Cincinnati, $54,954 in Dayton, $52,510 in Akron, $52,365 in Cleveland, and $45,520 in Canton.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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