Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell calls police and firefighters part of the nation’s “domestic army” that would be called upon to respond to the next terrorist attack. USA Today reports that in Cleveland and other financially troubled cities, the ranks of those first responders are thinning. At least two thirds of the nation’s fire departments are understaffed, says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Many big-city police departments like Cleveland’s also are bleeding officers. Nationally, the number of police has remained stagnant in recent years, despite federal help from the Clinton-era COPS community-policing program, which spent $9 billion to help put 118,000 more officers on the streets. The Bush administration, which has emphasized training and says staffing should be largely a local responsibility, is phasing out the program.
New York City, with 23,000 officers, lost 1,000 a year for the past three years. Minneapolis cut 38 police positions last year. The Oregon State Police laid off 129 troopers from its 600-member force. “It’s almost completely budget-driven,” says Gene Voegtlin of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. There also are staffing problems at 911 emergency centers. National figures are not available for 911 call-takers and dispatchers, sometimes called the first of the first responders. To keep enough patrolmen on the streets, Cleveland Police Chief Edward Lohn cut the department’s more specialized units. The result, police spokesman Wayne Drummond says, “is that we’re more of a reactive department now than a pro-active department.”