(LAKEWOOD, Colo.) -- Lakewood police will pull officers from the city's four middle schools and will end a well-known drug-education program beginning next year in order to keep enough officers on the street.
The reassignments will be made to fight increasing losses from police ranks and a tightening budget that limits the number of hires the department can make.
The changes could go deeper if those budget problems become bigger, with traffic officers and even detectives, who handle property crimes such as burglaries, going to regular patrol.
'We are shifting from 'good to have' programs to 'must have' programs,' said Police Chief Charlie Johnston. 'Public safety will not be jeopardized. (But) it may take longer to investigate; it may take two to three days to do a follow-up interview. That is going to be the downside of what we're doing.'
The school reassignments will come even after the department has already moved 11 officers in a gangs/fugitives unit and a night traffic-enforcement team back to street beats.
Police will be pulled from Carmody, Dunstan, Creighton and O'Connell middle schools but will remain in the city's high schools. The officer running the DARE program in the middle schools also will be put back on the street for the duration of next year.
Harder to prevent crime
Principals from those schools were not available for comment, but Johnston said the changes will make it harder for police to prevent crime.
'We are not abandoning the schools. We are just not able to have a proactive role,' he said. The school resource officers 'are able to develop information about things going on in the school that need to be taken care of. The worse case is we won't get the information (now).'
The department planned many of these moves last spring, even before the city began considering asking voters to approve a sales-tax increase for the November ballot, Johnston said.
The defeat of that issue could force the department into reassigning detectives to street duty in order to keep the 110 officers needed for 24-hour patrol, he said.
'If the sales tax had passed, it would have given us a light at the end of the tunnel,' the chief said.
Voters were asked to OK eliminating the city property tax and increasing the city sales tax from 2 percent to 3 percent. Officials said the two-part plan would have raised an additional $ 18 million a year, allowing Lakewood to hire some 25 police officers, improve street maintenance and bolster other programs.
The city might consider another tax request next fall, but the failure of the measure last week could prompt Lakewood to make other cuts outside the Police Department.
'We are examining all of our programming. We have to make some change in the programs and services we offer. Every program and service we offer, someone uses,' said city spokeswoman Joni Inman.
But opponents of the city's sales-tax proposal are skeptical that changes are needed in the Police Department.
'There are other places in the budget that need to be discussed and decided upon before public safety. I went through the budget fairly carefully with $ 21 million in suggestions,' said Sandy Kunzer, who campaigned against the sales-tax increase. 'My perception is they are cutting the most loved and the most visible program, which is political.'
Although rated as one of the top suburban departments in the country, Lakewood police have operated for the past several years with fewer officers than recommended by national standards. Lakewood has 1.58 officers for every 1,000 residents. The national standard is two officers per 1,000.
(iSyndicate; The Denver Post; Nov. 15, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.