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Despite More Money, Police Shortfall Persists

Despite More Money,

Will it be enough?

The 2007 fiscal year begins July 1, and the budget gives $3 million more to the police department than last year — a total of $67.8 million. The extra money will go toward an array of programs and services, but mostly it's supposed to go to new hires in uniform. Mayor L. Douglas Wilder pledged to hire 30 new officers in 2006 and 50 in 2007.

Instead, a shortfall of officers persists. As of June 13, the city had 22 vacancies for sworn officers, police spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson says.

The department doesn't track monthly staffing numbers from year to year, Nelson says, referring Style's request for those figures to City Hall. City spokesman Linwood Norman could not be reached by press time.

Meanwhile, it appears the increased budget may be buying more time than manpower. Amid an escalation in homicides this year, for example, the city has fewer officers on the street than it did five years ago. In 2001, the murder count for the year dipped to 70, the lowest in recent memory.

That same year, the police budget was $42.4 million. In the five years since, the budget allocated for police has jumped 52.8 percent. Yet the ensuing years have produced, overall, more homicides and fewer cops.

In February 2001, the city was "authorized" to have 717 sworn police officers but, with 55 vacancies, had 662.

There's enough money in the new budget for 730 sworn officers, 23 more than five years ago. But the officers just aren't there. As of June 13, Nelson says, the city had 642 sworn officers on staff — 20 fewer than 2001.

That could change. Nelson says the police department now has 71 recruits on its payroll. S

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