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Published: 6/28/2009

After police ranks fell, case filings plummeted

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bob Cready, outside the building on Adams Street that includes his residence, said police were unresponsive when he first tried to file reports on nearby vandalism. Bob Cready, outside the building on Adams Street that includes his residence, said police were unresponsive when he first tried to file reports on nearby vandalism.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Two months after 75 Toledo police officers were laid off in an ongoing battle between Mayor Carty Finkbeiner and the city's patrolman's union, an unprecedented drop - numbering in the thousands - of traffic tickets and misdemeanor crime citations has occurred.

Meanwhile, the city's police department continues to struggle with low personnel numbers and even lower morale.

According to Toledo Municipal Court figures, case filings dropped as officers readied for the May 1 layoff date and fell even more significantly after the layoffs.

Last month, officers filed 1,980 criminal charges, the lowest monthly number in the past 18 months and down from 3,018 during May, 2008. Traffic citationnumbers for May, at 1,165, were down nearly 3,350 from the same time a year before.

Despite the significant slowdown in court cases, Police Chief

Mike Navarre said his officers continue to get the job done.

"There are at least a dozen reasons that [court] numbers are down; you can't point to one thing. The officers are doing what they're supposed to be doing. I'm proud that they are getting the priorities done," he said.

"I would argue with anyone who says there's a slowdown; response times are not different," he said. "The fact is that they don't have the time and we don't have the people to do those things that aren't a priority."

Dan Wagner, president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, isn't surprised by the numbers. He said anyone who frequents Municipal Court or even the booking area of the Lucas County jail would know that fewer offenders are coming through the doors.

Although the police unions and city have continued to meet periodically, contract negotiations have all but stalled. Both sides have presented their cases to a fact finder, whose report is due no later than Aug. 14.

Until then, officers continue to answer calls. However, Mr. Wagner said, fewer officers have meant less proactive law enforcement and reduced follow-up investigations.

"Our priority is responding to the calls for service," he said. "Like the chief said at the time this was announced, there are going to be areas that suffer. The officers are responding to the calls, but the proactive work and investigative work will suffer."

Most notable is traffic enforcement, the union chief said.

Studies have shown that more proactive enforcement leads to safer streets, Mr. Wagner said. But writing tickets for speeding and running red lights has definitely taken a back seat, he said.

That concerns people such as Doug Scoles, executive director of the Ohio chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Mr. Scoles said proactive law enforcement is a key component in keeping drunken drivers off the streets. Fewer officers will mean fewer arrests and more people will be likely emboldened to drive while intoxicated, he said.

"If [police] aren't out there, you know you're not going to get stopped," he said, adding that he understands officers can do only so much.

Acknowledging that Columbus is bracing for a similar hit in the form of police layoffs, Mr. Scoles encouraged city leaders to not simply consider the numbers but the people as well.

"We're going to hold our leaders accountable for this," he said. "If we see that the numbers increase because of money, we'll hold them accountable."

Local police leaders point to several reasons to explain the drop in arrests and tickets.

Wilma Brown, chairman of Toledo City Council's public safety committee, said the drop in tickets would mean less cash for the city, but she is more concerned about crime soaring.

"The tickets are hurting the bottom line, yes, but the existing crime that is elevating is hurting our bottom line because when you have citizenry that thinks they are not going to be protected, they are not going to stay here," Mrs. Brown said.

Chief Navarre said that in addition to dropping personnel numbers to the lowest in the past 50 or so years, the layoffs hit the youngest and arguably the most aggressive members of the force.

Juggling assignments to cover road patrols has meant eliminating community service officers, the downtown Mud Hens patrol, and the bike patrol and reducing the gang unit and traffic divisions, he said.

"Because I've lost those officers, those that are remaining are carrying the load," he said.

"They're being asked to do follow-up investigation, vice work, community service. That all comes down to one thing: They don't have time to do this extra stuff."

Resident Bob Cready felt the frustration of what fewer officers on the streets can mean.

Over a week's time in early June, he'd seen at least 10 cars on his block that had been broken into. And of those vehicles with smashed windows, several had belonged to tenants of his Adams Street apartment building.

He felt victimized by the vandals and ignored by the Toledo Police Department, which he said was unresponsive when he initially tried to file reports.

Those concerns, he added, subsided when police leadership promised him that those on the night patrol would keep an extra eye on his area.

"Every morning that I go out, I look at my car and am thankful that my window wasn't broken. You shouldn't have to go through that," he said.

"Quite frankly, I think there are a whole bunch of bad decisions being made in this city," he added.

"Those who have been in the public arena for a while are the ones who set up how things are done today. They are the ones who set up how the fire department and the police department are paid."

Blade staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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