Tight budgets and bad times

     The economy is a scary thing right now and for those already fighting for every dollar they can get, there's never been a tougher moment to prepare a budget. I've looked around the Internet to see what some cities and counties are doing to save money and how it affects law enforcement agencies. I've also sought out law enforcement agency initiated moves. Here's what I found. And please remember, this information comes from local news accounts that are current as I write this. Things may have changed since then.

     After understandable controversy, city officials in Flint, Michigan, announced they would demote two lieutenants and 15 sergeants and send them back to patrol to trim about $160,000 from its budget. This followed layoffs the previous June in which 46 police officers were pink-slipped. April 2008 resulted in 11 demotions.

     Brookline, Massachusetts, officials were considering privatizing some of the duties of the city police department's traffic division — mainly the collection of coins from parking meters and parking fines. They were hoping to raise the amount of collections, bringing another $200,000 to $300,000 in revenues.

     The tiny town of Hendricks, Minnesota, was considering eliminating its two-man police department and relying on county law enforcement for its needs.

     Toledo, Ohio, floated the idea of shutting down all "nonessential" services for three days around the holidays. Those employees would not be paid for their days off and would not be allowed to take vacation leave. Some police were included in the proposed short lay-offs. The police union opposed the move. Chicago Mayor Richard Daly's call to do the same thing in both 2008 and 2009 apparently did not include police employees.

     The Jackson, Mississippi, Police Department has saved money in fleet maintenance by rotating parts from wrecked and retired police vehicles to their current patrol cars while using prison inmates to do the work.

     Clark County, Washington, commissioners suggested a slowdown in deputy hiring to close a budget shortfall, a move vehemently opposed by the county sheriff.

     Pelham, Massachusettes, police were looking into a program whereby they could lease rather than purchase police cruisers. Although the initial cost was projected to be the same, the move was expected to save money over the long run since the newer cars would require less maintenance.

     The Folsom Cordova (California) Unified School District cut two of its four school resource officers, saving $130,000 in the process.

     The sheriff of Snohomish County, Washington, facing a mandate to trim a whopping 9 percent from the department's budget, decided not to fill 13 vacant deputy slots, and was considering cutting another two positions. More significantly, Snohomish officials were actively looking for ways to stretch the manpower and resources they already have, while cutting costs to the bone. A few of the ideas on the forefront: finding ways to reduce deputy downtime due to paperwork, creating a mental health triage center where deputies could leave individuals in crisis and hit the road faster, and cutting overtime.

     I could keep going, but the news is pretty much the same everywhere: Law enforcement agencies across the country are experiencing threadbare and slashed budgets and it's probably not going to get any better in the near future. The moral: Be prepared. Find ways to cut the fat and operate on the lean beforehand.

     One way to approach this is to look at services that can be consolidated and the costs shared between agencies. I also like the idea of finding ways to reduce paperwork.

     I'm afraid the days when police were insulated from budget cuts can forever be viewed in the rear view mirror.

     A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations. She welcomes comments at carolemoore@ec.rr.com.

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