ROYAL OAK — The city has laid off nine police officers, bringing the department down to 64 sworn personnel — that’s a 38 percent reduction in the force since 2003.
The layoffs, originally proposed for July after the budget was completed, were held off until after the city’s two largest events — the Woodward Dream Cruise and Arts, Beats & Eats — were completed. Both drew tens of thousands to the city with only some minor incidents between them.
“This wasn’t any secret,” Mayor Jim Ellison said about the layoffs. “We were able to delay some of the layoffs to keep officers for a few months.”
The cuts, enacted Sept. 12, also included the laying off of two firefighters.
“The chiefs have their strategies to keep the community safe,” Ellison said.
Police Chief Chris Jahnke said the department had 103 sworn personnel in 2003, before attrition starting cutting into those numbers as the decade went on. The nine officers most recently let go are in addition to three others that were laid off during the budget process.
While city officials are trying to stay positive in the face of negative news, the police chief was blunt in assessing the situation.
“I fear (the reduced force) is going to have a negative impact,” Jahnke said. “We’ve been on such a good run on our crime stats, and we have been making great headway into the community. I fear we’ll have higher crime and more dissatisfied residents. It’s a lose-lose.”
Royal Oak has been battling budget woes for several years, but things are at critical mass now, as a more recent dramatic drop in property values has contributed greatly to the fact that the city now faces declining revenues while expenses increase.
Jahnke said the loss in personnel has led to more than 1,000 cases being not fully investigated, and more are likely to go uninvestigated going forward. The department had eight detectives before the layoffs; they are now down to five, as the others have been shifted back to patrol.
A couple of residents spoke about the cuts during the Sept. 13 City Commission meeting, including Kelly Hayden, who said she hoped the city would find a way to rehire all those laid off.
“I just hope in the coming weeks and months, we can figure out as a community creative ways, whether it’s a public safety millage or something else … to bring these people back,” she said.
Ellison said all options, including asking residents for a millage increase, are on the table right now, but also noted the city must reduce its cost structure before executing such a move.
“A good portion of our community, myself included, has taken a pay cut,” he said. “And we have bargaining units that haven’t take pay cuts. It’s a tough sale.”
With the exception of the city’s police and fire unions, all of Royal Oak’s various unions have agreed to concessions. Both police and fire are under contract until June 30, 2011, and received pay increases this past July.
City Manager Don Johnson said a proposal for privatized ambulance service would come before the City Commission in October. More firefighters would be laid off if and when that plan goes into effect.
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