The head of the Southwest Florida Police Benevolent Association, Mick McHale, held a protest today, in front of City Hall, to call for more police officers or City Manager Bob Bartolotta’s job. McHale was joined by about 60 current and retired Sarasota police officers.
There currently are 176 officers at the Sarasota Police Department. McHale said that is equivalent to 1987 staffing levels, and that, as a result, officers’ lives are at risk and citizen safety is being compromised.
“We are undermanned and under siege,” he said. “There are fewer officers to respond in times of need. Response time is down.”
McHale placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of City Manager Bob Bartolotta and demanded that Bartolotta immediately hire at least 30 more police officers or resign.
“If he won’t step up and make public safety a priority, maybe it’s time for him to go somewhere else,” McHale said.
Bartolotta did not speak directly to the demand, because negotiations on a new PBA contract with the city are expected to begin soon. The union’s contract expires in September.
“The PBA has smart professionals,” Bartolotta said. “I’m sure once we get to the negotiating table, we’ll be able to come to an agreement.”
The problem is purely an economic one, he said.
“(The PBA) is aware of the fiscal realities,” Bartolotta said.
The city manager says he plans to present a balanced budget for 2010 without any layoffs, despite starting the budget process with $9 million less than last year.
During the past two years, there have been 125 positions cut citywide, 29 of them police positions, although all the cuts were through attrition.
McHale said he understands budget cuts, but said the police department should not be affected any further.
“You can’t treat public safety the same as you do public works,” McHale said.
Also attending the protest was a representative from the state PBA, Jim Spearing. He described a public campaign the union was going to wage to put pressure on elected officials.
Nearly 6,000 direct mailers will be sent to Sarasota citizens, which will explain the police staffing levels and its effect on the crime rate.
Said Spearing: “We’re not going to quit. We will not settle for, ‘We’ve got to do with what we’ve got.’”
Contact Robin Roy at email@example.com.
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