How many police officers does Toledo need?Written by Kevin Milliken | | email@example.com
The Jan. 23 town hall meeting at UT may have served as a wake-up call of sorts for Toledoans who are concerned about crime and the number of police officers on the streets to answer their calls.
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner stated during his 2005 campaign for the office that he believes the city police force needs around 700 sworn officers.
City resident Chris Tiefel openly questioned the mayor on his campaign statement, asking if public safety forces — police officers and firefighters — were “off the table” when it comes to budget cuts.
The mayor responded in blunt, direct fashion: that “nothing is off the table,” when the city is facing an $11 million shortfall in this year’s budget, and as much as $17 million through 2008.
Police Chief Mike Navarre even lamented he likely would not see a new class of police recruits — this year or next. The city just cannot afford it, he told the crowd.
The city is also considering closing the Northwest District police station and selling it off for an estimated savings of $430,000. Chief Navarre told the standing-room-only crowd that the city’s police operations would not suffer being run from Downtown and the Scott Park District station instead.
The chief stated that cutting a district station would add a handful of officers to street duty, and he might need every uniform he can get.
The police chief also said the city’s police dispatch is now entirely made up of civilian employees, which allows about three dozen more men and women in blue to be sent out to the streets or other law enforcement operations.
That puts the number of sworn police officers somewhere in the high 600s. The question remains: is that enough?
You can argue the numbers of officers all you want. What is the appropriate number and the proper measure — the size of the city (88 square miles)? Is it population (per capita, or officers per thousand people)?
If it’s the size of the city that matters, the square mileage constant and is not going to change anytime soon.
If population is the proper measure, the mayor says Toledo has lost about 70,000 residents in the past 15 years or so. Yet the size of the police force remains as large as he could remember in recent years.
The Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association has argued the size of the police force on a per capita basis is smaller than many other cities in Ohio. The police union has also stated that some weekend shifts across the city don’t have enough police power to properly answer high-priority calls as a result.
For most people, the measure of whether there are enough officers is simply whether they feel safe in their neighborhood.
For them, it boils down to whether they believe a police officer will respond quickly enough when they dial 911.
But budget cuts and cost concerns are playing havoc with those feelings of the citizenry. It has become a dollars-and-cents issue that until now, has been discussed behind closed doors as a city council task force negotiates with the Finkbeiner administration.
Let me remind you of how contentious things got a couple of years ago, when then-Mayor Jack Ford brought up the possibility of police and fire layoffs. The citizenry let city leaders know they would not put up with pink slips for public safety forces — no way, no how.
Of course, Finkbeiner’s budget gurus have offered a couple of alternatives: raise city property taxes or increase the income tax to bridge the budget gap.
Yes, any talk of cutting the police force could be a smoke-screen to get a tax increase.
But it certainly looks like the same situation is rearing its ugly head yet again. I’m just warning you it’s coming, because I’ve seen some of the same posturing and tough talk that we saw as a community the last time police layoffs hit the radar.
So prepare yourself by asking this question, too: do you feel safe now, and are you willing to pay more to feel that way in the future?
It may be time to let your city leaders know.