Deputy layoffs may not always mean lead to crime

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly is worried. He is facing a 5 percent budget cut that may force him to lay off 20 of his 118 deputies.

If that happens to the Springfield-area sheriff's department, ''we're destroyed,'' Kelly said.

The sheriff said crime rates in all categories have increased over the past year, a time when he was forced to leave 16 deputy positions unfilled. Kelly fears that additional cuts will mean even more crime.

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But experts say that is not necessarily so.

Pamela Donovan, assistant professor of criminal justice at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, said reducing the number of officers on the street would probably not affect the crime rate.

Donovan said criminologists have compared the sizes of police forces in small and large cities with differing crime rates and looked at the potential impact of significantly reducing patrol officers.

''Very little effect is discerned,'' she said.

John McCluskey, assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Texas-San Antonio, said fewer officers don't necessarily mean more crime.

''If there are marginal cuts, that would be hard to translate into crime,'' McCluskey said. ''We're not sure exactly how strong that is.''

John Roman is a senior researcher at the Urban Institute, a Washington D.C.-based research group made up of government officials and civilians.

''The research literature on this is surprisingly inconclusive,'' Roman said. ''There is some weak evidence that more police means less crime and less police means more crime.''

But he said other factors affect the crime rate, including the strength of the economy, whether drug use is on the rise, and whether the population of people between the ages of 18 and 25 - an age group more likely to commit crimes - is on the increase.

''Having fewer police doesn't necessarily mean you have more crime,'' added James Alan Fox, professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston. ''But increased police resources can translate into a lower crime rate if police are deployed in strategic ways.''

Whether or not deputy layoffs result in more crime, there are certainly other negative effects, Kelly said.

He said fewer deputies mean will mean longer response time on police calls and reduced crime prevention. Monthly house checks to make sure convicted sexual offenders are abiding by the terms of their release will likely have to go by the boards, he said.

''We're at this point where the deputies go from call to call. There is no proactive policing,'' Kelly said. ''I haven't let the criminals take over Clark County. On the other hand, I'm concerned.''

Last year, the sheriff's department in nearby Champaign County laid off more than half of its 52-member force because of budget cuts. While about a dozen officers have since been rehired, the department is still down more than 15 from what it had a year ago.

County Commissioner Bob Corbett said he has noticed no uptick in crime.

''I haven't seen that,'' Corbett said. ''They're making do with less.''

James Hannah is the Dayton correspondent for the Ohio Associated Press.