By Jeff Gallatin
City Council’s mulling plans during budget discussions of the possible layoff or termination of up to 3 patrol officers from the 24 officer department has prompted public protests from the department’s patrolmen’s union.
Representatives of the union, Police Chief Dave Wright and Mayor Debbie Sutherland all said Monday, losing three officers out of the 16 designated as patrolmen would be difficult. The 16 also includes two detectives and a DARE officer, who normally do not handle road patrol duties like the other officers.
“It would be devastating to services to lose three in the short term,” Wright said. “When you lose one due to attrition, such as retirement, injury or some other problem, it’s tough but it’s something you can work on or plan for at times. But to lose three in the same time period, would be devastating. It would impact services we provide.”
City Council President Paul Koomar said council is still discussing the matter, and that his perception is that only one officer is slated for a layoff for right now.
“We’re looking for ways to provide the best safety for Bay Village at current population levels,” Koomar said.
Patrol officers Stacey Fifer and Anne Jindra-Smith, the union representatives, questioned the need for the moves as well as how it’s been communicated to the department.
“We’re very concerned about the effect this would have on safety in the community,” Fifer said. “You’re talking about eliminating 19 percent of the patrol unit, which would be extremely detrimental to safety and the department.”
Fifer said the handling of the situation has also changed.
“When we first started to hear about some of this, it was for a single officer who’s still on probationary status,” she said. “Now, we’re hearing that it would be a permanent elimination of three officers.”
Jindra-Smith said the only direct communication to officers about the issue has come from Wright and Sutherland.
“The chief has been talking to us and he’s working on it,” she said. “And the mayor asked to speak to the officer who would be laid off and has also indicated to us that she is not in agreement with the council proposals. It’s also been difficult to deal with because we’ve heard nothing directly from the council about this. It’s all been discussed in executive sessions.”
City Council Finance Committee Chairman Mike Young said it wouldn’t be appropriate for council to discuss the issues with the officers because the city is in active contract negotiations with the union right now.
“We’re trying to find the best way to provide the appropriate level of services for the people we have in the during some very difficult economic and budget times,” he said.
Sutherland said Monday she is working on the matter, noting she has asked for a special city council meeting, which was set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“I don’t believe the cuts would be in the best interests of the city or appropriate staffing levels for the department,” she said. “Those kind of cuts would definitely have an impact on department services.”
Sutherland said she expects to be discussing the matter with council at the meeting.
“I’ll be looking for possible alternatives and ways to provide a strong budget which maintains our police staffing levels,” she said.
Wright said he is putting together some possible options for council to consider, but declined to discus them at this point.
Young said he had the city clerk contact other cities about their departments.
“It was an informal survey of other cities,” he said. ‘One of the things I think should be noted is that Bay Village has lost population since 1980. It’s gone down a couple thousand to 15,600. Yet we have one more police officer now, than we did then.”
In looking at the other cities, Young said Bay Village has the fewest number of residents per each police officer. He cited as one example, Avon Lake having 751 residents per officer.
” Fairview Park has 17,600 people to our 15,600, yet we both have 24 officers. They have 732 people per officer, while we have 652. North Olmsted has 744 people per one officer. You also could note that our daytime population actually goes down because we don’t have a lot of business,” he said. “We’re looking for an appropriate number of officers for our population.”
Fifer said initial information from a draft of a management study of Bay Village by Cleveland State and other surveys indicate Bay Village has fewer officers than other comparable cities.
“They seem to indicate that we could use more officers, since our calls and major incidents are up,” she said.
Young said he thought the number of officers who could go might be closer to two, but said it could go to three.
“We’re still discussing all of this,” he said. “But, we’re going to have to make some tough budget talks, because it’s not going to get any easier. You’re talking about the elimination of the estate tax next year by the state and we’re going to have other issues.”
Both the union and city officials said they would be present at the Tuesday special council meeting and the next regular meeting set for Feb. 6.