Police, Fire Departments Face Major Cutbacks In Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A new round of proposed budget reductions totaling more than $15 million cut to the quick in departments typically held sacred: police and fire

Deep personnel cuts will spread the pain across other city departments. In public services, for example, the loss of engineers, a painter, plumber, planner, building inspector, administrative aide and others, if enacted, is expected to delay park and neighborhood improvement projects, keep the city from doing any new development planning and hurt inspections of ongoing construction. Residents may face longer waits for building permits and difficulty getting questions answered by phone.

In his memo, the police chief recommends reducing the police force by a total of 42 sworn positions, shutting down the community policing division, reducing jail booking to the point where officers will take on most of that work and will be off the roads for possibly an hour or two processing each arrest, and shutting down the popular police horse-mounted patrol that had been spared during the first round of cuts.

The police department is hardest hit, with $7.9 million in additional cuts.

"This will return the department to staffing levels only slightly above 1994 levels, when the city earned the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of serious crime in the nation," Roberts wrote.

Latin, the fire chief, had to pare $5.3 million more, even after telling top officials that there was nothing left to cut.

This time he suggests handing fire-rescue dispatching over to Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne, a move that would cost 15 dispatchers their jobs. He also proposes eliminating nine manager jobs, and taking out of service a fire engine and ambulance that were stationed at the barrier island when the Cleveland Clinic there closed and residents feared for their health and safety. Twenty-two firefighter employees would be eliminated in that move, and Latin suggests cutting another 16 firefighter or driver-engineer jobs that are vacant.

Latin's draft budget memo shows that unless some money is restored to his budget, he'll have to let 30 part-time ocean rescue employees go and close some beach lifeguard towers.

He also recommends severing mutual aid agreements with other cities "since we don't have enough units to cover our own city let alone bordering jurisdictions," and withdrawing from any parades or public education demonstrations.

"Lastly," Latin wrote in his Nov. 7 draft memo, "I want to again reiterate the fact that any cuts in the operations division greatly increase our response time to emergencies. ... Everything is connected and the entire city is affected no matter what we do in terms of cuts and or reductions."