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Police, fire chiefs set plans to cope with layoffs



Published: Fri, August 9, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Police reassigned a dozen officers to ensure the number of cops on patrol doesn't change.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite the grass-roots movement to raise the income tax and restore jobs, the city starts dealing Saturday with 60 layoffs.

The police and fire chiefs have detailed plans for protecting the city minus 11 officers and 15 firefighters. That includes rotating firehouse closings starting Saturday.

Firefighters and police officers are seeking to put a half-percent income tax on the ballot in November. The city would call back workers immediately if the tax is approved.

Nonetheless, changes will be made from now until at least then.

Fire station closings

Fire Chief John J. O'Neill Jr. expected to close two of the city's eight stations and rotate the closures every three weeks.

But O'Neill found a way to definitely close only one station. A second station on his closing list will operate day-to-day.

Stations that are second on his closing list will open when there are enough firefighters. Scheduled days off, firefighters' calling in sick or injuries could force those second stations closed.

O'Neill said he had no idea how often such stations would remain open over a three-week period.

He eliminated all vacations and other time off to keep such station openings viable, hardly a popular move in the department. Nonetheless, O'Neill said, it had to be done.

"It impacted the picture quite a bit," he said. "By changing these things, we lessened the possibility [of a second closing] a little bit."

Closed firehouses will have signs in front. Sometimes people come in person to report a fire or a medical emergency, O'Neill said.

Which to close?

There are lots of theories on how to manage fire station closings, but O'Neill chose the simplest with the rotating schedule: No one life is less important than another.

Basing closings on population or volume of calls can be done, but there is no truly fair way, he said. Distance and call volume were among the factors used to decide which stations will close and how they were scheduled.

The Indianola and downtown fire stations won't close at all because they each contain special equipment and trucks.

Response time will rise from three minutes to about seven in spots where stations are closed.

Also, the department will stop many of its other activities because remaining firefighters must be immediately available:

Community-service work, such as visiting schools and day-care centers or helping schools repair flagpoles, will end.

Arson investigations and fire inspections will become backlogged. One of two arson investigators and two of five inspectors were reassigned to trucks.

Training will slide, too, O'Neill said.

Police reassignment

The police department is facing as much change, even if it's less drastic.

Police reassigned a dozen officers from special units to make sure the number of cops on patrol doesn't change despite the layoffs.

"It's not going to appreciably affect our response times," Police Chief Robert Bush Jr. said.

The newly formed traffic unit will remain. Two or sometimes three single-officer cars are dedicated to taking accident reports. That helps other officers more quickly respond to 911 calls, Bush said.

Lt. Robin Lees, a police spokesman, declined to specify the number of officers on patrol per shift but said it won't change.

"We don't see a huge disparity between what we've done in the past and what we'll do in the future," he said. "This will really take us back to answering calls from citizens and basic police service."

Officers will be reassigned from units such as bike patrol, juvenile and crisis intervention.

The biggest loss is in the bike patrol, known as the Neighborhood Response Unit, Lees said.

Police won't be able to quickly address specific problems in neighborhoods, such as rashes of break-ins or prostitution. Instead, patrol officers will have to somehow deal with such issues in between emergency calls.

Other effects

The reassignments will cause other ripple effects:

Non-emergency reports may lag, although response time to emergencies should remain level. There will be fewer one-officer cars to take reports.

Records will take longer to obtain. Two clerks are being reassigned. Getting a copy of an accident report might take three days instead of a day.

Caseloads in juvenile and crisis intervention will rise with fewer investigators.

Canine officers no longer will be able to float to specific trouble spots around the city. Instead, the two canine officers will be dedicated to being backups or taking reports because a suspect can't be put in a car with a dog.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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