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Will new police chief be up to task?



Published: Fri, August 26, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick (Contact)


On the side

Wealthy congressman: U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly of Butler, Pa., R-3rd, who represents a portion of Mercer County, is one of the richest members of Congress.

Roll Call, a newspaper and website that covers the federal government, ranked the wealthiest congressional members based on their annual financial disclosures. It’s not an entirely accurate listing as the financial reports give officeholders a wide range when listing assets. For example, there is a range of $5 million to $25 million per asset.

Roll Call went with the lesser amounts in each category when compiling its annual list.

Kelly, who owns auto dealerships in western Pennsylvania, is listed at No. 21 with $11.9 million. That also makes him the fourth richest freshman in Congress.

No one else from the Mahoning and Shenango valleys made the top 50.

Incoming Youngstown Police Chief Rod Foley, who starts his new job Thursday, knows the challenges facing him.

The question is: Can he do enough to address and resolve those problems?

Foley already acknowledges there’s a major problem with the police department.

The declining number of those on the force has left the remaining officers overworked and tired, he said.

Overworked officers are “safety issues,” and the long work hours are “taking a toll on officers,” he said.

“They need more rest,” Foley added. “Officers are struggling out there, and we want to bring them some relief.”

That isn’t likely to happen in the foreseeable future, and with the city’s stagnant revenues, this will be an issue for at least several decades.

Between some state money and moving around police department funds, the city expects to add about four new officers to the force sometime this year.

Drop in the bucket

But that’s just a drop in the bucket when you consider 43 officers have left the department since 2007. That’s a 23-percent decline in officers in only four years.

The department currently has 144 officers, Foley said.

Foley said officers are stretched too thin, and “sometimes people wait five or six hours” for officers to respond to minor crimes. That’s because police officers are too busy with the major crimes plaguing the city.

I know of people who’ve waited significantly longer than five or six hours.

There are also people who are essentially hostages in their own homes.

I wrote an article that ran July 31 about Bonnie Jacobs, who lives on East Florida Avenue on the city’s South Side.

She is afraid, and rightfully so, to leave her home and to stay in it. There are two bullet holes in her house, she’s had a gun put to her head and someone tried to run her over with a car in her own driveway.

Foley wants to improve response time for nonemergency calls and have officers “more visible in the community.”

But how can that be done with 23 percent fewer officers on the force compared to 2007?

Statistics show violent crimes — as well as the population — are declining in Youngstown. But burglaries and thefts are on the rise.

Foley’s experience as chief of detectives, staff inspector, vice squad commander, neighborhood-response-unit member, community police member and patrol officer will serve him well.

However, the long-standing problems of crime in the city will remain regardless of who is the police chief.

Foley’s ability to chip away at those problems and make people, such as Jacobs, feel safe in their neighborhood will be the real measuring stick for how successful he’ll be as police chief.


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