Ballard’s budget omits funds for police, fire recruitment

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The Indianapolis police force could shrink next year under a budget proposal from the mayor that includes no money for a new recruit class.

Republican Mayor Greg Ballard's administration maintains that residents are safe even though the police department's current count of 1,597 officers stands nearly 200 fewer than authorized by the City-County Council, The Indianapolis Star reported Monday.

The city is also trying to renegotiate scheduled 3 percent pay raises for officers and firefighters for $5.5 million in spending cuts toward closing an anticipated $65 million shortfall in the 2013 budget.

The police force will likely lose officers through retirements and other attrition next year without a new recruit class — at a time when police union leaders argue the city should be increasing the department's ranks.

"The current number of officers on the street is woefully short, dangerously short," said Bill Owensby, president of FOP Lodge 86. "And you're seeing evidence of that by the rise in crime."

Ballard administration officials say union leaders are exaggerating the city's need.

Each side points to crime statistics to back up claims.

Although homicides are down 15 percent this year compared with last year, violent crime overall is up 7.3 percent, and all crime is up 5.8 percent.

Interim Police Chief Rick Hite said department has adjusted to having fewer officers by changing its patrolling strategy to concentrate on high-crime areas, using up-to-the-minute-data mapping tools.

"We are getting leaner and increasing productivity," Hite said. "We are facing the same budget challenges many other cities are, and we made adjustments anticipating those challenges."

Public-safety spending is likely to attract much attention from the City-County Council's Democratic majority as it considers the general fund budget of about $600 million over the next two months.

Elaine Bolden, president of a neighborhood association northeast of the city's downtown, said she hasn't been aware of declines in the number of police officers, but that her area could always use more patrols.

"We have drug activity going on here all the time, and I don't think the department can afford to lose any more officers," Bolden said. "There is one trouble spot we have called police over and over for a year, and it is still not resolved."

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