A thinner blue lineWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
How many people do you know who have been raped? Or beaten and robbed? How about murdered?
Odds are you don’t know anyone who’s been victimized in any of those ways. Terry Wertz does. His neighbor two doors down was held at gunpoint, while the man’s roommate was raped during a home invasion last year. Another friend was beaten and robbed by a gang of punks a couple blocks over. And his own brother was shot and killed in the mid-1980s. All in the Old South End neighborhood he’s lived in for most of his 48 years. The prospect of Toledo laying off 75 police officers doesn’t sit well with Wertz.
“Cutting back on officers is going to make it more convenient for people to commit crimes without being caught,” he said.
The fewer police on the streets, the more the bad guys get away with their bad acts, free to commit more bad acts another day. The beat cops know who the ill-intentioned characters are, and they lay in wait for them to do the wrong thing at the wrong time. The crooks might not get busted for the worst caper they’ve committed or plan to commit, but they’ll get arrested for something. These are people in our neighborhoods who are pulling off some sort of misdeed on a weekly or even daily basis — assault, theft, drug dealing.
But these are times like most of us haven’t seen before. The City of Toledo is looking down the barrel of a growing gap in the 2009 budget. Nearly $28 million by the latest ballooning estimate. Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has his ideas on balancing the budget (laying off police officers and firefighters) and the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association has its own.
“Every union leader has stepped up to assist in balancing the budget” said TPPA President Dan Wagner. “… but Carty won’t even entertain the ideas we’ve put forward.”
Finkbeiner not welcoming suggestions from other people? That’s an entirely different discussion.
The patrolman’s association and the city are negotiating possible concessions aimed at reducing, and perhaps eliminating the need to lay off police officers.
The dollar figures are inescapable. Employment and tax revenue in Toledo are tumbling. Toledo City Councilman D. Michael Collins, a former president of the TPPA, publicly urged his former union to consider concessions or face layoffs: “I’ve been in your shoes and I’ve sat in your chairs, and these numbers are real.”
The correlation between more cops and less crime is a little muddled. I called the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Statistics, and even it couldn’t tell me what, if any, connection was documented. But common sense tells me that too few cops equals too much crime. I remember the field day criminals had when Toledo police went on strike in 1979, and the city had to be patrolled by the scant crews of the Lucas County Sheriff’s office. Arsonists set fires in broad daylight that burned down entire blocks of houses (the firefighters were on strike, too). And after Sept. 11, 2001, the federal government created departments and added tens of thousands of sworn officers. We haven’t suffered a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since, and it’s not like the terrorists have lost interest in us.
The TPPA’s Wagner has his own terrorist analogy: “I equate him [Mayor Finkbeiner] to a terrorist because it’s like he’s holding the police officers hostage and pitting us against the residents.”
The negative effects of cutting police officers is usually measured in “response time” — the time it takes from the 911 call to the first squad car screeching up on the scene. But the block watchers and other neighborhood activists say it’s really about the police just being seen. It works like the plastic owls Point Place residents put on their docks to scare the seagulls away. “The officers are doing a darned good job for what they have now” said Old South Ender Terry Wertz. “[the layoffs are] only going to make their job tougher, and they might not be able to maintain the visual deterrent that’s been helping our area.”
Helping an area that’s still seeing rapes, beatings, robberies and the occasional murder. Even before another cop is walking the beat on the unemployment line.
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.