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Published: Wednesday, 3/17/2010

Police chief paints grim picture as 125 officers get pink slips

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo's police force will be down to a bare-bones operation if the city lays off 125 patrolmen to help balance its books, Police Chief Mike Navarre said yesterday.

The layoffs - which would affect the youngest patrolmen and no command officers - would slash more than 20 percent of the sworn police force.

Daily violence will "undoubtedly increase," criminal investigations will be severely cut, and preventive policing like pursuing gang members will be slashed, the chief predicted.

"These numbers are terribly low, and this is territory we have never even approached," Chief Navarre said.

Mayor Mike Bell sent the 125 officers 30-day layoff notices on Monday. The layoffs would save $4.08 million toward a $48 million general fund deficit.

Morale in the department plummeted last week when rumors of the layoffs first began to circulate, the chief said.

Michael Dearth, citywide chairman of the Toledo Neighborhood Block Watch Program, said he didn't want to speculate on the effects of police layoffs, but he did say that Toledo crime hasn't appeared to drop since laid-off officers were called back last year.

"I think common sense tells you that, yeah, people that are going to do crime realize there are fewer officers out there. It may embolden them," Mr. Dearth said.

The number of sworn officers on the Toledo force would fall to about 460 after layoffs and would drop further with retirements.  The number of sworn officers on the Toledo force would fall to about 460 after layoffs and would drop further with retirements.
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"Block Watch isn't going away. We're needed more than ever now."

Former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner laid off 75 police officers on May 1, 2009, but they were returned to service with state and federal grant money.

Chief Navarre blamed a spike in some crimes last year on the depleted manpower. Burglaries, for example, increased 23 percent in 2009.

By accepting that grant money, Mr. Finkbeiner promised Toledo would keep its police force at 564 sworn officers for four years. Now, the city could have to repay the grant money.

"I have determined that laying off 100 officers would require that we forfeit the remaining portion of the COPS hiring grant and the loss of $5,502,501," Chief Navarre wrote to the mayor in a March 8 letter detailing his plan to handle the layoffs.

"We will also have to pay back $1,646,936 that we have already spent for noncompliance with the grant requirement to retain the officers for one year after the expiration date," he wrote.

The police layoffs could be canceled if Toledo City Council approves the mayor's plan to balance the city budget with union concessions, a trash-fee increase to $15 a month, and higher taxes for Toledoans working outside the city.

Last night, City Council put off voting on those measures until its meeting March 30. The city must have a balanced budget by 11:59 p.m. the following day.

There are currently 590 sworn officers on the force, but that number is expected to drop to 584 by April 15 because of retirements.

"The loss of an additional 100-125 officers would take the department down to approximately 460. Additional retirements this year would lower that number to about 440 by Dec. 31," the chief wrote.

Chief Navarre's contingency plans for the police department are similar to the steps taken when the 75 officers were laid off last year. The current proposal includes:

•Closing the Northwest District Station in West Toledo.

•No longer responding to non-injury vehicle accidents.

•Cutting the Safe-T-City program this summer.

•Reassigning the 14 officers currently at the junior and senior high schools in the Toledo and Washington Local school districts to field operations.

•Reducing the number of officers in the gang unit by 50 percent.

•Eliminating the community services officer program.

•Eliminating the police probation team and transferring one patrol officer to field operations.

•Eliminating the police employee assistance program.

•Reducing the investigative services bureau and transferring at least 15 of those 49 detectives to field operations.

•Reducing the vice/narcotics bureau and transferring eight of the 18 detectives to field operations.

•Transferring the officer assigned full time to the FBI's Prostitution Task Force to field operations.

•Transferring the officer assigned full time to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force to field operations.

•Transferring the officer assigned full time to the FBI's Fugitive Task Force to field operations.

•Eliminating one of the two remaining SWAT teams and transferring the 10 patrol officers back to field operations.

•Eliminating the Police Athletic League sergeant position.

•Eliminating the City Council sergeant-at-arms police officer position and transferring that officer back to field operations.

Celia Williamson, a University of Toledo professor who developed the Lucas County Prostitution Roundtable and the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, said eliminating the officer assigned to the FBI's Prostitution Task Force would be a mistake.

"I think it would create a tremendous dent in our efforts to rescue children and arrest traffickers," said Ms. Williamson, who is founder of Second Chance, a Toledo group that supports victims of sex trafficking.

"I think the chief's back is against the wall and he doesn't have a choice," she said.

Toledo Board of Education member Larry Sykes said he probably would also cut the school officers if he were in Mayor Bell's position. "He has to ensure that the entire city of 300,000 is safe," Mr. Sykes said.

He said former Mayor Finkbeiner did the same thing during his tenure and it cost TPS $350,000.

The school system might be cutting the positions next fiscal year as it prepares to close a projected $30 million budget deficit. TPS has been covering the city's portion of the resource officer expense and would save about $380,000 by making the change.

Blade staff writers Christopher D. Kirkpatrick and Bridget Tharp contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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