Columbus will put more cops and cruisers on the streets in 2008, and will be using a $12 million communications emergency response vehicle to link up with agencies across the state and the country.
Mayor Michael Coleman on Nov. 14 rolled out his proposed $461.6 million budget for the Department of Public Safety, one day before unveiling his full $650 million spending plan for the coming year.
That figures represents 71 percent of the total budget, and includes funding for three police recruit classes for 130 officers, and 109 new cruisers. Another 56 officers are scheduled to graduate from the police academy in January.
By the end of 2008, Columbus will have 1,942 officers in uniform, the most in the city’s history and the most of any city in Ohio, according to Coleman.
There were 1,793 officers when the mayor took office in 2000, added his spokesman, Mike Brown.
Past figures have shown that while Columbus has more officers than other large cities in Ohio, it has fewer residents and per square mile.
Coleman said the police recruiting and training was keeping pace with the level of crime in Columbus, while balancing what the city can afford to spend.
He promised that Columbus "will continue to hire aggressively."
He noted that the homicide rate has dropped 30 percent over this time last year.
The police department fleet will also be bolstered by three motorcycles, 41 covert and unmarked cars and seven battalion chief command vehicles. The purchases are to be made with $5 million from the Special Income Tax Fund.
The additions come after tight budgets from 2001 through 2005, the mayor said. In 2005 101 cruisers were purchased, and this year another 41 were added.
"We’re catching up on our police fleet," Coleman said.
Twenty of the vehicles purchased in 2007 will be delivered by the end of the year, in time to be used in 2008 by the police strike force. The mayor has allocated $800,000 for the unit, which he said has been responsible for 2,187 arrests and the seizure of 447 guns since its inception in 2005.
Commander Michael Springer, of the technical services bureau, called the new cruisers "floating offices.
With their digital cameras and laptop computers, they are "light years ahead" of what was available when he joined the force in 1984, Springer offered. "Then you had a switch to turn on the lights and siren and an eight-channel radio."
The new technology allows officers to run warrant checks on suspects, and even receive photographs, from inside the cruiser. They can also identify a suspect with a hand-held device that scans fingerprints.
The cruisers have been outfitted with the equipment officers requested, Springer said, and the feedback has been positive.
Veteran cops are reporting that this is "the best equipment they have ever had,’ the commander said.
Columbus emergency responders and other agencies have another high-tech piece of hardware at their disposal with the purchase of the communications emergency response vehicle, purchased with the cooperation of Franklin County.
Columbus is the only municipality in the state to have this equipment.
The vehicle can be dispatched to any disaster site in the state, and can communicate with any agency in the state or across the country.
It utilizes 200 portable, rechargeable radios, five video cameras linked to a 42-foot mast, and an AM radio broadcast system that can send a signal to receivers up to 10 miles away.
The vehicle has already been dispatched to Shelby, Ohio, when a flood hit, and was ready within 90 minutes after the late-night call for help. It was also used to search for a lost child in Lancaster and a sting operation that involved the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, along with local law enforcement agents.
Coleman said he can think of at least five occasions during his two terms when the communications center would have been valuable.
The vehicle would have been useful during the hunt for the "freeway shooter," officials commented, when federal, state and local authorities were operating with incompatible communications systems.