Police chief warns of drastic cuts if New London budget goes forward

New London - The city's police chief said Monday she will have to lay off 15 police officers if a $924,000 budget cut stands, leaving the day shift with only two patrol officers on duty.

"These cuts are going to change how we police the city,'' Chief Margaret Ackley told the Board of Finance, a five-member panel that reviews the city's annual spending plan before the City Council's final approval.

In the 81-officer department, the cuts would mean eliminating five patrol officers from each of the three shifts, Ackley said.

The layoffs would come from the 45 officers who patrol the city's streets. That would mean only two patrol officers instead of the current seven would be on duty during the day shift. The 15-officer afternoon shift would be reduced to 10 and the midnight shift would go from 13 to eight, she said.

The department would still have 18 supervisors, six detectives, five members of the vice unit and six speciality officers who cover the schools, traffic and crime prevention, she said. There are fewer patrol officers on duty during the day, she said, because other officers, such as supervisors and detectives, are available to answer calls

"I don't think that's the services we want to provide,'' she said.

Since becoming chief in 2009, Ackley said she has underspent her budget, saving the city about $4 million over the past four years.

"I recognized how important all this is,'' she said of the city's finances. "But I've pinched every penny. ... If we didn't need it, we didn't spend it."

Finance Director Jeffrey Smith confirmed that the police department has returned about $4 million to the city. The money has been used to offset overexpenditures in other departments, he said.

The Finance Board, while sympathetic, said it has no authority to increase the police budget.

The members, who are appointed by the City Council based on recommendations from the mayor, can only add or subtract from the bottom line of the council's proposed budget.

Members Lonnie Braxton, Robert Funk and Chairwoman Sharon T. Griffis voted in favor of the budget and forwarding it to the council. Member Jerome Fischer was unable to attend the meeting and Jeffrey MacDowell has resigned, Griffis said.

"It's great pain,'' Braxton said before voting. "But there's nothing we can do."

Funk said he was uncomfortable approving the budget but did not feel the finance board was involved enough with the process to make any changes.

"I have severe concerns about whether the budget can cover our needs. I see deficiencies in the police department and the public works department,'' he said.

After the vote, the finance board decided to take a more active role in the city's finances and set up a schedule of monthly meetings with the finance director.

"The Board of Finance needs to be more involved,'' Funk said.

The City Council, which is required by the charter to approve the annual budget three times, has already had its first reading of the proposed $82 million budget. A meeting is scheduled for Monday when it will vote on the budget again.

An approved budget must be returned to mayor for his signature by May 31.

On April 30, the council approved the $82 million budget for 2013-14, which represents $41.6 million for general government spending and $40.4 for education. It is nearly $900,000 more than the spending plan proposed by Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio.

It represents a 3.38 percent tax increase and includes an increase in the tax rate from 26.6 mills to 27.5 mills.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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