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April 8, 2009 > Police services may be slashed

Police services may be slashed

By Simon Wong

Declining income from property and sales taxes, combined with termination of the 911 fee, may reduce Union City's revenues by 20 percent next year.

Because 44 percent of the general fund is spent on the Union City Police Department, a proportionate loss of $3.7 million could mean 10 fewer officers, not filling vacancies for a dispatcher and six officers, and disbanding specialized units such as COPPS and community programs.

Union City staff warned of these and other consequences at the March 31 meeting of the City Council.

Stimulus funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and a Justice Assistance Grant could offset the cuts. The Council voted unanimously to apply.

Without the grants, other proposed reductions could include:
* Demotion of a lieutenant, two sergeants and three corporals to fill some open positions. Savings would be reduced due to higher overtime costs.
* Postpone improvements in the Communications Center to pay for dispatcher salaries and benefits.
* Reduced spending on services and supplies that might impact operations and service levels.

Stimulus funding provides up to $1 billion to recruit or re-hire law enforcement officers.

"For cities to be eligible for funding, they must show that without it they will have to reduce their police forces because of budget cuts," City Manager Larry Cheeves explained.

The non-matching grant would fully fund six entry-level positions for three years and partially fund nine others, with the City making up the additional cost of more experienced officers. Employees funded by the grant must remain with the City for one year after the award period ends.

April 14 is the deadline for applications. If the application is granted in full, the City would receive $2,176,000.

Other alternatives would be to share police budget cuts with other departments or draw from general fund reserves.

"Agencies must demonstrate 'need' in the application. I'd hope that police departments that have already laid off, or plan to lay off, officers receive higher priority than those wishing to add staff," stated Police Chief Greg Stewart.

Community members urged the Council to seek stimulus funds to maintain staffing.

"The absence of community police officers at Centro would be a tragic loss," stated Jaime Jaramillo, executive director of Centro de Servicios. "Community policing also develops direct relationships with our clients. Their ability to organize, communicate and solve problems is invaluable."

Teachers stressed the need for police officers to visit schools to build positive relationships at an early age. Neighborhood Watch groups applauded the COPPS unit's effectiveness and its officers.

"We know the City needs to make cuts but please think before you implement them. We want to be safe. We need to honor the heroes that protect us daily." said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Shawna Curtin.

Using demotion as a means to balance the budget would lower morale, be demeaning and encourage officers to seek employment elsewhere, one speaker cautioned. Similarly, reducing staff would increase strain on the department's already-scarce resources.

"Over the years, Union City Council has always strongly supported UCPD and public safety, in general. Having campaigned successfully for Measure UU [public safety bond] last year, we need to keep moving forward," stated Mayor Mark Green.

The Council will hear a report detailing budget cuts in other departments on April 14.

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