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Published: Saturday, 3/7/2009

U.S. awards Toledo $1.2M for police

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner Friday said the city would use $1.2 million of federal money awarded this week to buy police equipment such as vehicles, computers, and bullet-proof vests, but not for hiring new officers.

"President Obama was in the Buckeye State, coming through on his commitment to rebuild America's economy and protect its citizens this morning in the form of an announcement that the Buckeye State will receive in excess of $61 million in law enforcement-related economic stimulus funds," Mr. Finkbeiner said.

"The city and [Lucas] county received of that package - $2.4 million in the form of a Byrne Justice Assistance Grant [and] Toledo's Police Department will receive $1.2 million of these economic stimulus funds," he said.

The mayor said the city's allocation also could be used to offset police overtime costs.

The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program was funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The federal Justice Assistance Grants for Law Enforcement are generally awarded to departments to hire and train officers and support staff, pay overtime, and buy computer technology and equipment.

"This administration intends to apply for federal stimulus dollars that will specifically allow us to hire more police officers, commonly referred to as a cops grant," the mayor said. "That grant will help our department numbers. This grant will help us strengthen our police crime-fighting abilities."

Of the Lucas County money - $2.39 million - the Oregon Police Department will receive $107,917 and the Lucas County Sheriff's Office will receive $485,828, said Holly Matthews, program officer for the Criminal Justice Coordination Council.

Those figures reflect a local process for using Justice Assistance Grant funding, Ms. Matthews said.

A document from the Department of Justice shows Lucas County's award to be just $26,363 and Oregon's as $13,290.

"The federal numbers are 100 percent accurate as far as coming into Lucas County," Ms. Matthews said. "The difference is the process the local governments take in order to allocate those funds based on precedent."

The remaining money from the $2.39 million will be disbursed to various agencies and programs, Ms. Matthews said.

"Law enforcement will receive a portion of these funds, and the remaining funds will be used in an open solicitation for social service programs in the community," she said. "We have a procedure in place where we will solicit [requests for proposals] for these program services."

The procedure for allocating Justice Assistance Grant funds is a federal formula based on population and crime statistics, in combination with a minimum allocation to ensure each state and territory receive an appropriate share.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the grant money would not help reduce the city's 2009 deficit, which stands at about $10 million. "We still need to balance our 2009 budget and control expenses throughout the city," he said. "This is the first significant law enforcement stimulus grant received from President Obama. We hope it will not be the last."

The mayor warned that police layoffs are still a possibility.

Toledo City Council on Tuesday rejected his plan to generate $5.2 million through the end of 2009 by cutting 50 percent of the income tax credit for Toledoans working in other cities.

"The last thing I want to do is lay off public safety officers in the city of Toledo but the state requires a balanced budget on April 1," Mr. Finkbeiner said. "We have few options left in terms of how we balance that budget."

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said it is not uncommon for the mayor to throw around the possibility of laying off police officers.

"We're always used as pawns when the mayor is trying to pass a referendum or get elected," Mr. Wagner said.

"Every time in the past when there has been a threat of layoffs, they haven't occurred."

Mr. Wagner on Thursday accused Mr. Finkbeiner of threatening to lay off officers so their salaries can be paid for through the federal government's COPS grant.

The competitive grant provides 100 percent funding for entry-level salaries and benefits for three years for newly hired, full-time sworn officers or for rehired officers who have been laid off, or are scheduled to be laid off at a future date as a result of budget cuts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Web site.

"That way, he can get current officers' salaries funded for three years," Mr. Wagner said.

Mr. Wagner said the department wants grant money to hire new officers to replace those retiring this year.

There are 629 sworn officers, and that number is expected to drop to 600 by the end of the year.

The union contract specifies that officers be laid off by seniority so those that would be affected would be patrol officers, Mr. Wagner said.

He said Chief Navarre then would have to pull more officers from investigative services, the gang unit, and vice-narcotics and put them on the street.

"The citizens may not see less officers on street, but they would have no follow-up on crimes that have been reported," Mr. Wagner said.

Blade staff writer Laren Weber contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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