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DPS warns of massive service reductions if cuts go through

The Department of Public Safety warned that the agency could be reduced to 1997 staffing levels, officers could be forced into dangerous situations without backup and Arizonans could be forced to wait more than an hour for officers to respond to some emergency calls if it has to through with massive budget cuts.

The agency detailed the impact that a 15 percent budget cut would have on the department in a report released Oct. 16 by the Governor’s Office. Gov. Jan Brewer in September requested that all state agencies submit such reports.

A 15 percent cut would result in the loss of about $6.9 million in general fund revenue and another $32.6 million from fund sweeps and other revenue sources, according to the department’s report. Those other funds include sources such as $7 million in one-time revenues from a joint-settlement agreement with the Attorney General’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies.

Under the worst-case scenario, the Department of Public Safety would lose 570 people, Director Roger Vanderpool wrote in his report. Sgt. John Ortolano, head of the DPS Fraternal Order of Police chapter, said the agency could face different levels of personnel cuts, depending on whether the agency can gain access to other funding sources.

Even if all possible non-general fund revenue sources were available, Ortolano said, the agency would lose 359 personnel. If the department had to cut 570 positions, it would lose 250-300 of the 775 Highway Patrol officers it has now, he said. The agency also would lose funding for 55 local law enforcement agents from its multiagency anti-gang task force who would be reassigned back to their original departments, he said.

“It would virtually cripple the sworn side of the agency because everybody knows how much Arizona has grown just in the past, say, 10 years, (and) how much the department grew substantially over the last 10 years to try to keep up with the population growth of the state,” Ortolano said.

A number of other services also would suffer if the full cuts go through, Ortolano said. Air-rescue operations would be curtailed for lack of helicopters, which he said would also affect counties that rely on the department’s aircraft for rescues. The report stated that a 15 percent budget cut would include $388,300 for the Western Air Rescue facility in Kingman, a facility that flew 162 operational missions in support of other agencies in fiscal 2009.

Ortolano said the department’s SWAT team could be reduced to a part-time force, which would drastically increase its response time. DPS would have to eliminate 14 of 25 full-time SWAT positions, the report said. SWAT also includes 18 part-time personnel.

And cuts to the crime lab could result in delays in processing evidence that could lead to the release, or prohibit the arrest, of dangerous criminals. Seventeen crime lab positions could be continued through federal stimulus funding, the report said, but DPS still would have to cut $629,300 from the crime lab, resulting in the loss of seven positions.

The Governor’s Office has said it hopes the reports will paint a clear picture for lawmakers of how disastrous the cuts will be, and how great the state’s need for new revenue is. Brewer has been pushing a temporary1-cent sales tax increase, which she hopes will help bridge the $1.5 billion shortfall in this year’s budget.

Along with education and the state’s “most vulnerable populations,” Brewer has cited public safety as one of her top budget priorities.

“Those three priority areas to her are of enormous concern, and I know that any reductions in those areas are going to be deeply concerning to her,” said Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman.

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