Despite all the fiery rhetoric and political grandstanding at a special City Council meeting Thursday evening at the Duke Energy Center, residents might not notice much of a difference if the city manager decides to lay off 138 people in the Cincinnati Police Department.
Even with proposed layoffs, the Police Department’s staffing level still would be within the range that Chief Thomas Streicher Jr. said was sufficient just a few years ago.
As a result, if the city manager decides to implement the layoffs and Cincinnati City Council chooses not to stop them, the Police Department would be restored to its pre-2002 staffing.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. recently stirred controversy by proposing the 138 layoffs in the department to save $2.6 million and help avoid a deficit. The layoffs wouldn’t affect the number of officers assigned to neighborhood patrols, nor would it change the number deployed per district, Dohoney said. Instead, civilian personnel and officers assigned to special units would be affected.
Thursday's special council meeting was called by Republicans Leslie Ghiz and Chris Monzel. It provided a forum for Republican mayoral candidate Brad Wenstrup to criticize the Democratic incumbent, Mark Mallory.
The police union previously rejected Dohoney’s proposal to use six-day unpaid furloughs to cut costs. Now, Dohoney has stated the layoffs can be avoided if the union agrees to other cuts and forgoes a 2 percent raise next year.
Negotiations are ongoing, but layoffs will begin Sept. 6 if no progress is made.
Then-City Councilman John Cranley, a Democrat, proposed hiring 115 additional police officers in late 2001 to deal with a surge in violent crimes after rioting that spring and to improve Cincinnati’s image as a safe city.
During testimony before council at the time, Streicher said he hadn’t requested the extra cops and didn’t think the department needed them. During that period, the Police Department had a standard of having 1,000 officers, although the number fluctuated slightly from month to month due to retirements. That was OK, the chief said, because the department remained effective if staffing is within 15 people of the 1,000-member goal.
By comparison, the Police Department had 1,037 officers by 2003 and now has 1,135 officers. That number would drop to 997 if Dohoney’s layoffs occur.
Despite Streicher’s testimony, City Council ultimately approved the hirings in 2001. Besides Cranley, other supporters were Republicans Pat DeWine, Phil Heimlich and Chris Monzel. Opponents were Democrats Paul Booth, Minette Cooper and Alicia Reece and Charterite Jim Tarbell.
Although he initially opposed hiring the additional cops, then-Mayor Charlie Luken reversed his position and cast the swing vote — in an election year — to approve the measure. (At that time, the mayor also was a member of council and could cast votes.)
The additional officers would cost about $47.4 million during the next eight years, according to budget data presented at the time. Under the plan, 40 officers were added in 2002, and another 75 were hired in 2003.
Once all of the new officers completed their training by 2004, the additional annual cost to the city was estimated at $5.2 million. With raises and other adjustments, that expense rose to $7 million by 2010.
During debate over the issue in October 2001, Councilwoman Alicia Reece said, “I just don't understand how we can vote for something when we don't know how we're going to fund it.”
Prescient words, if ever any were spoken.