Dayton police-fire staffing levels at 50 year low www.privateofficer.com
DAYTON OH June 3 2011 — Already at its lowest police and fire staffing levels in nearly 50 years, Dayton will not hire new officers until at least 2012 and may not be able to hire then depending on state budget allocations.
Both police Chief Richard Biehl and fire Chief Herbert Redden said they can operate with smaller numbers as long as the city’s calls for service remain the same and crime rates continue to decline.
“Right now, we are at a staffing level that is operationally sound,” Redden said. “I don’t know what will happen next.”
The U.S. Department of Justice’s rejection of the results of the city’s police entrance exam has forced the city to delay filling its dwindling police and firefighter ranks.
The firefighters’ entrance exam, originally scheduled for April 2, will not be given until early next year, according to James Moore, Dayton’s Civil Service interim director.
New police recruits will not be on the street until at least the summer of 2012, instead of February or March, he said.
The city’s public safety departments have dwindled to about 650 sworn officers. The decline mirrors that of the city’s population, which has shrunk to about 141,000 residents, 120,000 fewer than in 1960.
Also shrinking is the city’s operating budget. City Manager Tim Riordan recently announced he will cut $9 million to $10 million from the $154 million general fund to offset significant cuts expected to come at the state level.
Riordan said he has not begun discussions about job cuts or if the city will be able to hire new recruits next year. He has said “everything is on the table.”
Police chief says he will need help soon
Since Biehl came on the force in 2008, the ratio of residents per officer was about 375 to 1. Now it stands at about 400 to 1. From 2008 to 2010 violent crime was down 4.5 percent and all crime was down 8.7 percent.
“We will likely be in the 330s (sworn police officers) by the end of the year and I think we’ll be OK,” Biehl said. “The question is that the floor? It’s hard to say.”
Redden has kept the department’s response times well within national guidelines despite declining ranks, but cautioned he will need help soon.
“New recruits need to be in the engine house by July 2012,” Redden said.
The Fire Department has 314 firefighters and medics. That number could drop to close to 300 by year’s end, Redden said. Of that number, 68 firefighters and four others have 25 years or more on the job and are eligible for retirement.
Cedarhurst Avenue resident Ronnie Hinton, who was at Wednesday’s City Commission meeting to offer economic and community pride ideas for West Dayton, said the reduced staffing could have a domino effect.
“It puts a stress not just on one area, but on the whole system, because you could have to call (police and fire) from other stations … or other neighboring districts to respond to a calamity or whatever problem might occur,” Hinton said.
The Department of Justice in March rejected the passing score of the police exam because not enough minorities passed the test by the city’s passing threshold. The DOJ forced the city to lower the score to allow more minorities into the hiring pool.
Shortly after agreeing to lower the score, the city announced it was tossing out the exam scores of those who passed and would hire based solely on how applicants scored on subjective oral interviews.
The city’s charter requires officials to hire applicants one at a time based on their test scores. Biehl said he hopes to hire 25 officers initially that will hit the streets by next July or August.
Hinton said beyond the issues of public safety, there is an economic component as well.
“It also is sad because during these times of economic problems, we need as many jobs and opportunities as possible,” he said.
Moore said the firefighter exam has been pushed back to ensure the city doesn’t repeat the problems it encountered with the DOJ on the police exam.
“We want to finish the process and get everyone into the (police) academy before we start the process for fire,” Moore said.
Randy Beane, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, does not agree 330 officers can adequately cover the city.
“Definitely the safety of citizens is jeopardized, as well as the safety of officers,” he said. He pointed out even as the city’s population and crime rate have dropped, the work load on officers has increased. The reports they must file from their cruisers have increased in numbers and complexity.
“Gangs are a problem. And how is safe is an officer on the street when he has his head down working on the in-car computer to get reports done. It’s not a situation an officer should be in,” Beane said.
Barbara Bauer, who lives on Xenia Avenue in East Dayton, also expressed concern for the safety of emergency responders, and by extension, city residents.
“It’s definitely not good, Bauer said. “We’re already probably understaffed, and if we would have a lot of injuries — and police and firefighters are in a field where they are injured frequently — we could be in really serious trouble.”
Commissioner Matt Joseph said he is “not comfortable” with the dwindling ranks and is concerned about the public’s safety.
“We can always use more (officers) and we have common sense and are trying to do the best we can with the revenue we have,” he said. “When I look at our crime rate for police and our response time for fire, we have been incredible on those fronts, so right now we are meeting expectations.”
Source:Dayton Daily News