ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–The police chief warns aldermen he can deal with this year’s plan to cut 80 officers, but it’s unclear whether future cuts will affect crime and public safety.
Chief Dan Isom appeared before the Aldermanic Ways and Means Committee to discuss a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 that would reduce the force of 1,352 officers by about 80 cops. (In the 1980′s the force boasted some 2,000 officers.)
“We can’t continue to cut the operating budget,” Isom said, “That’s going to mean that not only police officers, but support staff, is going to have to be cut and support staff is critical to that mission.”
In an interview with KMOX after the meeting, Isom explained this year’s cuts will be absorbed by moving some civilians into positions of administration now occupied by officers. Isom says he is also trying to reduce the command structure to put more officers on the street, and adjusting the number of officers on specialized units verses on patrol.
When asked if the department is near a tipping point, when cuts will translate into inability to maintain law and order, Isom was unsure how many more cuts the department can take.
“Nobody can say at this point that we don’t have enough officers to fulfill the mission,” Isom said, “We are running out of ideas on how we can continue to do what we do with less money.”
Isom says next year he will request an increase in the department’s operating budget.
Public Safety Director Eddie Roth defended the cuts to the department.
“St. Louis can be proud of the level at which it funds its police department and funds its police department,” Roth said, “We are in sort of the top five-percent of all cities on a per-capita basis in terms of our sworn officers and civilian staffing.”
Roth expressed no concern that cutting 80 officers next fiscal year will increase crime.
“We have crime in St. Louis that needs attending to,” Roth said, “We have a well-funded police department to meet those challenges and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Lyda Krewson says cutting police is not something she wants to do.
“You know, the police department budget is going up overall, despite the fact that we have to cut officers and that’s mainly because of the increased pension contribution that are required,” Krewson said, “And so, we have to address that on all levels of city pensions, police, fire and ERS.”
Krewson says ten years ago, the city was contributing $20 million a year to pensions, compared to $95 million this year. The change came, in part, after a court ruling that found the city was underfunding its pension systems.
“When we have a $75 million increase in the amount of money that we’re funding into pensions, that money comes out of other departments,” Krewson said.
Also in today’s budget hearing, aldermen questioned Roth about the future of the corrections division.
Alderman Shane Cohn suggested non-violent inmates should be put to work picking up trash or working in the city’s forestry division to ease budget pressure on those departments — and to send a message to the community that criminals are doing some work to give back to the community.
Roth said the idea is worthy of more study, but stressed his priority for now is making improvements to the administration of the city’s two jails and hiring a new corrections commissioner.
Former Corrections Commissioner Gene Stubblefield was fired in December in the wake of a rash of escapes. Stubblefield is fighting through the city’s civil service commission to get his job back, saying the escapes were the outcome of Slay Administration budget cuts. The mayor’s office maintains budget cuts were not a factor. The case is still on appeal.