Sunday, June 28, 2009

Council Must Make Tough Decisions On Police Spending

As Griff notes, the Cincinnati Police Division's administration is suggesting that it may be forced to lay off up to 200 officers over the next six months. With $40 million to cut from next year's budget, it's unrealistic to believe that CPD's budget will be untouched. But all of us (including City Council) need to keep in mind that Cincinnati is not Hamilton County.

Last year, Hamilton County went through the painful budget process that now faces Cincinnati. The commissioners were forced to cut the budget of the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. But they were powerless to address line-by-line spending within the HCSO budget. That's because the sheriff is an elected official who, by law, controls his own budget. Some (including the FOP) questioned whether there weren't additional administrative savings to be made. I still don't know the answer to that. But the decision was left to Simon Leis alone; the Commission could tell Leis how much money he was getting, but not how to spend it.

This is not true of the City of Cincinnati. The police chief is not an elected official, and is subordinate to the City Manager. The chief has no statutory authority protecting his right to set his own budget. Council has the power to set spending priorities--and it must use it. Before a single patrol officer is laid off, Council must examine the CPD's administrative budget.

The assistant chiefs are a good example of possible administrative savings. Do we really need five assistant chiefs? Chief Streicher's redeployment of Lt. Col. Janke a couple months ago would suggest we don't. In fact, we've only had five assistant chiefs since 2004. Of course, reducing the assistant chief compliment by one is just a drop in our financial bucket, but it provides an example of how a bureaucracy can become top-heavy in good economic times.

Beat officers are the lean meat of CPD. They're what are required to keep us all safe. City Council needs to take ownership of the job of finding CPD's fat and gristle. These are policy decisions that need to be made by elected officials, not by the appointed City Manager or the (non-appointed) Chief.

And if you're trying to figure out how to decide who to vote for in this fall's Council race, this is as good an issue as any. Any candidate who cannot give you a clear idea of where they'll find $40 million in cuts--with specifics from each department they intend to cut--probably isn't worthy of your vote.

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