The Blanchester Village Council met Tuesday morning and approved the temporary 2016 village operating budget, which includes a $42,000 reduction in funding for the police department.
The police department budget has been cut repeatedly over the past several years in order to help reconcile the overall village budget, which has been operating at a deficit for several years. Annual funding for the police department in 2013 was $724,500. The temporary appropriations for 2016 allow $556,000 to operate the police department, a 23 percent reduction over a four-year period. While the 2016 budget approved today is only temporary, I do not believe the permanent 2016 budget will vary greatly from the temporary budget.
Since personnel costs consume nearly 70 percent of the police department budget, the budget reductions have primarily been absorbed by reducing staff. In 2010, the department was staffed by 11 police officers. Since 2013 it has been staffed by only 8, which includes 7 full-time and 1 part-time officer.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Council approved adding one unpaid, auxiliary police officer to help with administrative tasks, thus freeing up other officers for more vital functions. This was done at my request, but I firmly believe that using unpaid, inexperienced staff, with limited availability, is not the answer to our staffing woes. In police work, like in any other profession, you tend to get what you pay for.
With our limited staff, we are no longer able to frequently engage in the informal police-citizen interaction that has been the hallmark of our community policing outreach effort. For instance, in 2015, for the first time in 8 years, the department was not able to field an officer to help coach a youth baseball team. Informal interaction with school students and staff has been greatly curtailed, as has officer’s attendance at community functions.
Reduced staffing has also limited the department’s ability to effectively investigate drug dealers. Sending drug dealers to prison is the most effective way to reduce the availability of illegal drugs in our community. However, these are complex investigations that require the commitment of a great deal of man-hours. With only 8 officers available to provide 24/7 patrol coverage within the Village, we simply no longer have enough people to dedicate to long term narcotics investigation.
I am fully aware that some in our community will scold me for admitting that drugs are readily available in our community. At this point, I honestly think the severity of this problem is not a secret to our citizens, and it is certainly not news to those engaged in the drug trade.
When drugs are readily available in town, drug addicts have to find the means to support their habit. Many of them do so by engaging in criminal conduct, specifically theft and burglary. It is my belief that our inability to effectively address drug trafficking will result in an increase in both theft and burglary. For example, preliminary figures indicate we will finish 2015 with 17 burglaries committed in our community, compared with only 11 in 2014.
Unfortunately, limited staff inhibits our ability to effectively investigate the crimes that do occur. In 2014 we solved nearly half of the burglaries committed in town. In 2015 we will be lucky to solve even 25 percent. While this is still above the national average burglary clearance rate of 13 percent, it is a disappointing figure for us.
Over the past 9 years the police department has made great strides in reducing Blanchester’s crime rate. It is disheartening to see that those hard-won decreases may be negated in the coming years due to limited police department funding.
I realize that Village Council can only spend the money they have, but it is my hope they can find some way to restore adequate funding to the police department. Only they can determine the best course of action to do so.
However, if cuts to the police department budget are not reversed, I fear that the quality of life in our community will suffer in the long term and, unfortunately, from where I sit, it appears the decline has already begun.
Scott Reinbolt, J.D. is Chief of Police of the Village of Blanchester.