Losing 200 police personnel would be “very devastating,” Metro police Chief Steve Anderson said Wednesday, but it would also be the only option if the department’s budget is not increased next year.
“We’re a very tight police department,” Anderson said. “We’d just have to shut down a lot of our areas –– our drug enforcement, our gang enforcement.”
In painting the dire picture, Anderson reiterated one of the chief points Mayor Karl Dean has made in his pitch to sell a 53-cent property tax increase to the public and Metro Council. Not raising revenue, the mayor has stressed, would result in the reduction of 200 police officers at a time when homicides are at a 45-year low in Nashville.
During the ongoing rounds of budget hearings Wednesday, Anderson told council members how his department plans to use Dean’s proposed $6.7 million increase to the police department’s budget, which would lift its overall level for the 2012-13 fiscal year to approximately $168 million.
More than half of the increase would be used to staff Metro’s new Madison police precinct, Anderson said. Funds would also go toward the addition of 17 scientists for the department’s first ever DNA crime lab, set to open in 2013.
“The potential exists for us to work more than 1,000 DNA cases a year,” Anderson said. “About 300 of these would be related to sexual assault, homicide or other personal violent crimes.”
Dean’s proposed property tax increase along with the $1.71 billion Metro operating budget goes before the council for a second of three votes in June.
Tipping Anderson Wednesday to discuss the alternative –– the outlook if funds weren’t added to the police department’s budget –– was At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry: “If you were to get no new money, what does that do to you?” she asked.
Anderson has arrived at the loss of 200 police officers because of an expiring three-year federal COPS grant, which Dean has proposed renewing. Approved by the Metro Council in 2009, the federal grant added 50 new police officers to Metro.
The grant, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, came with a catch: Following the grant’s expiration this year, Metro is required to use its own funds to retain the 50 officers. If it fails to do so, the city would have to pay back the entire $7.5 million to the federal government. Thus, Metro would lose those 50 cops, plus the department would lay off an additional 150 police personnel to pay for the fine.
Anderson said other cities comparable to Nashville have reduced its police forces because of budget constraints. He cited San Jose, Calif., which has cut 130 officers, and Sacramento, which has cut more than 100. Both cities no longer carry out key law enforcement services, he said.
“That would be the reality to us,” he said.
Anderson described a Metro police department that he called “lean and efficient.” To drive home the point, he compared Nashville to Memphis, a city that is larger than Nashville by only 60,000 people. Despite the similar sizes, he said Nashville has 1,373 sworn officers compared to 2,513 in Memphis.
“If we had the same ratio as Memphis, we would have 914 more police officers,” he said. “Unfortunately, that would cost $63 million more dollars.
“I’m not here tonight to ask your for $63 million to hire 914 police officers,” Anderson said. “I am here to ask you to let us keep what we’ve got.”